FROM A READING FOR NOV. 27, FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'Keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come...or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.' - Mark 13:35-36


It's easy to overlook one of the most important lines in Sunday's three readings. Paul (I Cor 1:3-9) reminds his Corinthian community, "You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Apostle presumes that his readers understand what he means by "spiritual gifts." Those of us who aren't accustomed to his terminology might have to turn to chapter 12 to see some gifts listed: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues.

In the same chapter, he personifies those gifts in specific individuals and ministries: "First, Apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues."

Gifts enough
Paul presumes each Christian community has been blessed with sufficient spiritual gifts to make it viable. Once members commit themselves to imitate Jesus' dying and rising, the gifts come.

The problem Paul encounters isn't that his communities don't have sufficient gifts to carry on the risen Jesus' ministry, but that some either don't recognize those gifts or don't know how to integrate them into the life of the community. He spends lots of time addressing those two topics.

Our sacred authors frequently warn their readers always to do what God wants them to do. As Third-Isaiah says in Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b;64:2-7a), it's easy to do "religious things" but still not carry out God's will.

Praying for Yahweh to come quickly and help the Chosen People, the prophet utters one basic fear: "Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags!"

No matter what we do in the name of our religion, if it isn't God's will, it's totally wasted.

You're on notice
Perhaps that's one reason Mark's Jesus warns (Mark 13:33-37), "Be watchful! Be alert!" Though the evangelist is addressing Jesus' delayed Parousia, the alertness he encourages in Jesus' followers goes across the board: "What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!"

Other Christs are known for constantly watching for the risen Jesus entering their lives. Though He/She is always present, only those who are alert to that presence will be able to surface it.

In the same way, God's will usually isn't something which hits us over the head; it comes gently into our daily lives. Those who aren't anticipating that will never seem to notice it. Paul has a parallel insight: Unless we're expecting the Spirit's gifts, we'll never notice them.

Years ago, a teacher told me, "The number-one gift a pastor is expected to have is the gift of surfacing and integrating the gifts of everyone else in the community."

In other words, a pastor must be one of the most alert persons in the Church. Someone exercising that ministry has an obligation to cut through all the prejudices and limitations our culture and traditions impose on God's actions in our lives, and point out how God is constantly blessing us with the gifts of the Spirit.