In a recent talk, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittester reminded her audience, "Time doesn't change things. People do."

Her statement could be the theme of Sunday's three readings. In each passage, the author addresses a community waiting for something to happen -- a community presuming it only has to "be around" when the expected event takes place and, without any personal effort or work, all its members will benefit from the happening.

Isaiah, Paul and Matthew are convinced things aren't that simple. Not only must their communities personally involve themselves in the waiting, they also must involve themselves in the event.

Time of peace

Following in the steps of prior prophets, Isaiah first creates a vision of "days to come" days when Yahweh will glorify the Chosen People (Is 2:1-5). Gentile nations will "climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob." Universal peace will break out. Everyone "shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." This is going to be a terrific time to be alive.

Yet the last line of the passage is the kicker, "O house of Jacob," the prophet proclaims, "come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!" In other words, only if people are moving in the direction of the vision will the vision ever become a reality. Days to come can never be an excuse for forgetting days which are.

The community Paul addresses in Rome and the community for whom Matthew writes his Gospel (Mt 24:37-44) are expecting a similar happening: Jesus' Second Coming. They believe his Parousia is just around the corner. But, as we hear in both passages, each community is neglecting its actual day-by-day following of Jesus because of its concentration on that great, future event.

"It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep," the Apostle writes, "for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith." Such "waking" demands a special lifestyle. "Let us conduct ourselves property as in the day," Paul insists, "not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

Paul believes Jesus' Second Coming will be a day of salvation only for those who are already working out their salvation.

Preparation

Also addressing a community waiting for the Parousia, Matthew illustrates his message with a classic example from the Hebrew Scriptures: the flood. "The coming of the Son of Man," he writes, "will repeat what happened in Noah's time. In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, right up to the day Noah entered the ark,...totally unconcerned until the flood came and destroyed them. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man." Only those who prepared for the flood will be saved from the flood.

Yet knowing his flood metaphor doesn't mesh completely with Jesus' Second Coming, the evangelist adds the concept of selection. "Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken and one will be left." Unlike the flood, which affected everyone, the Parousia will affect only believers.

Many Scripture scholars believe the phrase "will be taken" means will be taken by faith; again bringing up the mystery of why some have faith and others don't. Two people can be involved in the same set of historical circumstances and experience the same environment, yet one will have faith and the other won't.

The important thing is that we actually live according to that faith. Just as someone expecting a break-in will sit up all night waiting for the thief's arrival, so followers of Jesus will do everything necessary to prepare for His breaking into their lives.

The frame of mind which all three authors are trying to instill in their communities is summed up perfectly in one command: "Stay awake! You cannot know the day your Lord is coming."

Unless we actually do something everyday because of our faith, we might wonder if we really have faith.

(11-26-98)