It's no accident that Paul tells the church in Rome, "Wake from sleep!" and Matthew's Jesus insists His disciples, "Stay awake!"

The historical Jesus never encouraged His followers to leave the world and join a cloistered convent or monastery. He had that option. During His earthly ministry, a group of pious Jews, the Essenes, did something like that. A century before, they had gathered at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, to live their faith in isolation from their fellow Jews. They were still there while Jesus was preaching. Yet nothing in His life or message encouraged such a lifestyle for His followers.

Jesus presumed those who imitated Him would do so in the same context in which everyone lived their lives. They worked ordinary jobs, married and raised children. They were unique not because they left the world, but because they found something in this world which most people rarely notice.

Wake up

That's why our Christian sacred authors believe it's essential for disciples of Jesus always to be awake. If they let themselves fall asleep in their faith, they'll simply end up looking at the world and their role in it with the same sleep-filled eyes through which everyone else views their life.

We presume both Jesus and Paul were familiar with the first reading's command (Is 2: 1-5): "Walk in the light of Yahweh!" Those who dare to walk down such a divinely lit path will be able to accomplish things which will change the face of the earth.

"They will beat their swords into plowshares," the prophet predicts, "their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again."

Paul lays out the kind of lifestyle he expects from wakeful people (Rom 13: 11-14): "Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorable as in daylight; not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

The apostle believes that those who are awake perceive reality with a different light from those who are still asleep. They experience the light of Yahweh, the center of Isaiah's life and ministry.

Many Scripture scholars believe Matthew's Jesus isn't referring to the Parousia or the end of the world when he talks about the "coming of the Son of Man" in the Gospel this Sunday (Mt 24: 37-44). One of the reasons they hold this opinion is Jesus' reference to "two men out in the field," and "two women grinding meal." In each case, "one will be taken and one will be left." If He were talking about His second coming or the world's end, we presume at that point everyone will be taken and no one will be left.

Taken by faith

According to these scholars, "taken" refers to being taken by faith. If they're correct, Jesus is addressing an issue which frequently arose in early Christian communities: "Why do I have the faith while those around me - those who do the same things I do, who live in the same environment as I - don't have that faith? They don't see the same things I do, or share the value system which gives meaning to my existence."

Jesus gives the simplest answer to that problem: "Some are taken by faith, and some aren't. Don't worry about it!"

Those who are so taken always awake enough to experience Jesus' coming into their lives in unexpected situations and persons. They imitate "the owner of the house" who so anticipates a break-in that he's constantly on the watch. No one can ever catch him off guard.

Jesus believes that staying awake revolves around being prepared for something most people don't even know exists. Yet those who are willing to discover the risen Jesus in their lives will eventually do what Isaiah expected his people to do: Change the face of the earth.

(11/25/04)