by Father Mike Stubbs
Ordinarily, whenever I set up a meeting or an event, I write it down in my appointment book. Then I do not have to keep constantly thinking about it. I can free up my mind for other things.
In a sense, our faith puts us in the exact opposite position concerning the second coming of Christ. Although the date has been set, we have no idea when that might be: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32).
Ordinarily, when I prepare for an event, I count backwards from the set date with the amount of time needed for preparation. Since we do not know the schedule for the second coming of Christ, we cannot delay our preparation for it, but must remain in a constant state of readiness. That is the point that St. Paul makes in Sunday’s second reading, 1 Thes 5: 1-6.
He writes well in advance of the composition of Mark’s Gospel, but perhaps has Jesus’ words, which were later recorded in that Gospel, in mind: “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.” It wouldn’t do any good anyway. St. Paul recognizes the uselessness of speculation.
To emphasize the element of unexpectedness, St. Paul draws upon the image of a thief breaking into a house at night. “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Later on, St. Matthew’s Gospel will use the same image to make the same point: “Be sure of this, if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into” (Mt 24: 43).
St. Paul did not have access to St. Matthew’s Gospel, since it most likely had not yet been written. Instead, St. Paul appears to be referring to the oral tradition, the sayings of Jesus, which had been memorized and passed down by word of mouth — the oral tradition that St. Matthew would eventually also draw upon in writing his Gospel.
In any case, the uncertainty concerning the schedule for Christ’s second coming calls for alertness and constant preparation on our part. That does not mean undue anxiety or fear. Rather, it means faithfully following Jesus Christ and living according to his teachings. If we do that, then, in the words of our reading, we will truly be “children of the day and children of the light.”