Advent I – 2016 WE HEAR THROUGH MIRRORS – These are some of my Reflections on a very hopeful season.
“Only a single bird
The air is cloning it.
We hear through mirrors.”
Replica: Federico Garcia Lorca
Matthew 24: 40-41 “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.”
Much has been written on this passage, and I do not need to repeat those discussions. Matthew’s version differs from that of Luke 17:34-35, which repeats the Q statement. Luke’s is more original, but Matthew has changed verse 40 to accommodate verse 41, and is reminiscent of his many references to farmers and farming. This statement existed very early in the Palestinian Christian community. Q’s version ends with “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke has something similar, Luke 17:37. Matthew ends with, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Both Matthew and Luke are agreed on one thing, that the ideas expressed in these verses reflect the eschatological preaching of Jesus. In the preaching of Jesus, apocalyptic is eschatology, and eschatology is apocalyptic. Jesus stands firmly within the apocalyptic tradition which expected the destruction of the present age and the dawning of the new age. His immediate predecessor, John the Baptist, is clear on this. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” Mt.3:2. Later, confronting some religious figures, he proclaimed “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance….Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut won and thrown into the fire.” Mr. 3:7, 8, 10. The present age is under judgment, and is passing away. Jesus began his proclamation in the same way,” The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15.
The content of the Matthew 24: 40-41 is the immediacy of the Parousia. One is coming who will judge the living and the dead and whose kingdom will have no end. One is coming swiftly with judgment, casting fire upon the earth. “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt. 13:49-50. Therefore, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whosoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Mt. 10:32-33. The one who comes does not bring peace but a sword. The passage in Matthew 10:34-39 expresses clearly the content of judgment. The one who come sets things in opposition. People are placed before a choice, for or against God. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Mt. 12:30. But there is also encouragement. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
He who is himself the Parousia will judge the nations as in Matthew 25:31-46. He will separate the sheep from the goats, some at his right hand and some at his left. In light of this judgment, to accept the call of Jesus is to accept it unconditionally. “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Mt. 8:22. Even family relationships suffer consequences for following Jesus. Mt. 10:37-39. Upon close reading, the entire chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel supports the idea that Matthew 24:40-41 is the immediacy of judgment, separation, punishment, and reward that accompanies the one who is himself the Parousia. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the Kingdom of God.” Luke 10:62.
Matthew 24:40-41 must be seen within the context of apocalyptic ideas in the time of John the Baptist and Jesus. The end of the age is near, it is so near that it is already under judgment and would pass away swiftly. The dawn of the new age has arrived in the person of the Son of Man. The Q Document prefers this title. He comes as judge of all the world. He separates that which is together: two in the field; two grinding meal, the sheep and the goats, sinner and righteous, wheat and tares, wheat and chaff. While Matthew 24:40-41 may seem difficult to interpret, from my analysis it falls well within the apocalyptic message of Jesus: the Divine has entered into the human sphere. The encounter is consequential. The Divine that is trans-historical has brought forth itself in that which is historical, in the human community. The Divine takes into itself that which is human, and the human takes into itself that which is Divine. The Parousia, he who is himself the Parousia, speaks from within the human community, from within that which is patently human. The Parousia is what we are, what we have always been, what we will always be. The Parousia does not exist apart from us, outside of us, beyond us or above us. The Parousia has chosen to be us, to be who we are. When Jesus is mocked, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” Luke 23:35.” He does not answer. It is already enough that he saved others, because in those others he already exists, and is himself saved. There is no need to answer. Lorca said, “We hear through mirrors.”
On this First Sunday in Advent, we speak not of rapture, but of Rupture. The fabric of the curtain has been torn apart. The human community, the human person, in its identity as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the communion of saints,” has been called, summoned and transformed into an eternal presence as the Parousia of the Divine. Eschatology, which alone understands tomorrow’s essential eternity, has become today’s eternal history, the recurrence of the Parousia, in the one who is to come, who is already here. Keep awake, therefore!