Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent (27 November 2022)

Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent (27 November 2022)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Matthew 24:37-44 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


Luke has a similar passage in 17:26-27 & 34-35. Mark has no parallel to this passage from Matthew. Though Mark 13:33-37 does cover the same themes of the end time and the need for vigilance.

Harrington goes on to argue that the material that Matthew has added here in his expansion of Mark, “overloads” the theme of constant vigilance: “The theme of constant vigilance in view of uncertainty regarding the time of the Son of Man’s coming is expanded by Matthew with material taken mainly from Q: the parable of the days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39 = Luke 17:26–27), the twin parable about two men in the field and two women at the mill (Matt 24:40–41 = Luke 17:34–35), the parable about the householder and the thief (Matt 24:43–44 = Luke 12:39–40), and the parable of the two servants (Matt 24:45–51 = Luke 12:41–46). The exhortation to watchfulness (Matt 24:42) is taken over from Mark 13:35, and the whole of Matt 24:37–51 can be seen as an expanded version of Mark 13:33–37. Whereas the point of Mark’s neatly balanced structure was to suggest an evenhandedness between the signs taking place in ‘this generation’ and uncertainty about the time of the Son of Man’s coming, Matthew has shifted the structure toward the theme of constant watchfulness in the face of uncertainty regarding the time of the Son of Man’s coming” (D J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007, 344-345).

The theme of “watchfulness” that Matthew urges, rather than “expectation of a specific time”, may be a response to the scoffing of those who ridiculed the Christians for their belief in an unfulfilled timeline. We pick up something of this same struggle in the Second Letter of Peter: “First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).


For as the days of Noah were: The total surprise is the key here. This is emphasized by references to “the two in the field”, “the two women grinding meal” and “the owner of the house”. It is impossible to set timelines on God’s actions. This echoes a primary theme in the Decalogue where the sovereignty of God is paramount – see Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

coming: The Greek word is parousia. The idea of “a day that is coming” dates from the Book of Daniel – about 167-164 BCE. Daniel has several timelines – see 7:25, 8:13, 9:27, 12:7, 12:11 and 12:12. Harrington writes: “Given the apocalyptic context of Daniel with its hopes for a new age and the fullness of God’s kingdom, it is not surprising that there should develop in Jewish apocalyptic circles a fascination with calculating the apocalyptic timetables” (Ibid). By the end of the first century, the word parousia had become identified with the return of Jesus Christ. Harrington writes: “Matthew’s twin emphasis on the uncertainty about when the Son of Man will come and the attitude of constant watchfulness in the meantime has shaped mainline Christian theology through the centuries. Careful analysis of Matt 24:32–51 shows how he developed this approach out of even earlier traditions. In the encounter with (nonapocalyptic) Judaism after a.d. 70 one can also see how Christianity became a major vehicle for the survival of apocalypticism. This Christian apocalypticism, however, is not given to speculations and timetables. While retaining a strong faith in God’s direction of history and a hope that it will mean the vindication of the just, Matthew made them into a framework for Christian action in the present. Thus he brought about union between eschatology and ethics. Christians should always act as if the coming of the Son of Man were near” (Harrington, op cit, 346-347).

eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage: A statement of the ordinary. Life goes on. In the ordinary, we must be attentive, alert to the fact that it is precisely in the ordinary that Jesus is coming. We can interpret that in two ways. Firstly, it can mean that “Jesus is going to appear” – that is it is a statement of a future happening. Secondly, it can mean that “Jesus is already appearing” – that is it is a statement about the present moment. These are not mutually exclusive interpretations.

Keep awake therefore: Watchfulness is the logical conclusion from the foregoing. This calls for creative waiting rather than rigid expectations.

Reflection: Incompleteness

In today’s Gospel – Matthew 24:37-44 – Jesus recalls the story of Noah. One effect of Jesus’ recalling this story, is to communicate a feeling of tension. An essential part of the tension is in our not knowing “what” or “when”. We are called to respond and we can respond. But – and this maybe the nub of it – the “what” and the “when” are ultimately outside our control.

Jesus’ words here may be understood in terms of both revelation and evocation. That is, he is revealing something and he is, at the same time, evoking something within us. The revelation and the evocation are intimately connected. Reflecting on what is evoked in us will help us be a little clearer about the “what” and the “when” of Jesus’ messsage.

Jesus is in fact tapping into something deep within us all, much deeper than any social or religious or cultural heritage. He is tapping into the universal human experience of incompleteness. He wants us to pay attention to that! He wants us to face what we already know if we are in any way reflective, that our days are haunted by “the more than”. Our hearts are restless. Searching and longing and expectation are essential parts of what define us as human beings. We know we are made for more than “this”. But “what”? And “when”?

Dealing well with our incompleteness and its various manifestations must surely be one of life’s central tasks. It is possible, for example, to ricochet off the experience and create a fictional “what” and “when” in which we imagine we are in control. Thus we may seek completeness in a particular relationship or in possessions or work or sex or drugs or status. This is the stuff of idolatry and addictions. And potentially wasted time, energy and talent, even destructive endeavours. The problem is not the possessions or work and so on. It is what we expect of them – consciously or unconsciously.

If the truth be told, most of us resist the call of our incompleteness and withhold ourselves. And so we live lives that are neither destructive nor very constructive. This, however, should not be passed off as the best we can do.

There is one thing – and only one thing – that will complete us: The Infinite. It is our faith that this can be found in the person and teaching of Jesus The Gospels present this in terms of the kingdom, the state of being in which God reigns. Mark speaks explicitly of the kingdom some fifteen times, Luke forty times, Matthew fifty times and John five times.

Today’s Gospel thus invites us to hold the tension of our own incompleteness with the promise of the kingdom. For an initial glimpse of the “what” of the kingdom we can turn to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). And if we want to know the “when”, take up the hint found in Jesus’ instruction on prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread . . .” (Matthew 6:10-11).