In first-century Palestine, it is estimated that up to 95 per cent of the people living there were peasants. Their quality of life would have been very poor. Their biggest worry would be where the next meal was coming from and whether there was enough to feed their families. Creature comforts would have been few and far between. Their biggest challenge, perhaps, was just to stay alive.

So for Jesus to have survived birth and lived to the age of about 30 placed him in the very select ten per cent of the population of his time and place. A large portion of his hearers would have been considerably younger than he; they would have been severely disease-ridden; and they would have been facing ten or fewer years of life-expectancy. (John J Pilch, ‘The Cultural World of Jesus’, 1997)

For such impoverished people, their main preoccupation was the challenge of survival. Consequently, they would never have had the means or opportunity for the ‘debauchery and drunkenness’ as well as the ‘cares of life’ that Jesus warned people about in today’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36).

This warning was about how people should live while they waited for the end of the world with his Second Coming. Since then, at the beginning of every liturgical year the Church continues this warning of ‘Stay Awake’ to us, inviting us to assess how prepared we are for when it is our time to meet the Lord face to face.

As Jesus gave this warning in the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem, it’s more than likely that he was directing it not to the general (peasant) population but to the officials and elites who would have been gathered there. Only they – and not the other 95 per cent of the population – had the means and resources for the ‘drunkenness’, ‘debauchery’ and ‘cares of this world’ that Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel. And, as we know from other texts in St Luke’s Gospel (12:13-34), these people were disliked by Jesus not so much for their wealth but for their unwillingness to share their resources with the needy. In fact, the Biblical commentator John J Pilch notes that ‘at every mention of the “rich” in Luke’s Gospel it is advisable to cross out that word and pencil in “greedy”’.

With all of this in mind, and as we wait for the Lord to come to us – mostly likely when we die – how might we apply his teaching to our lives today?

The first way, of course, is to BE ready, to have our earthly affairs in order and not leave a mess behind for others to clear up. The second – and the very purpose of Advent – is to refresh our relationship with God. We can do this spiritually in a number of ways, all listed on the newsletter page of our website.

In addition we might heed the words of St Paul in his prayer for the Christians in Thessalonika which opens our Second Reading. As they were expecting this Second Coming or return of Jesus in their lifetime, Paul wrote:

May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race.

Paul was reminding his people that as members of the Church they not only had the duty to support fellow members of their Christian community but that also they had a duty of love or charity to the ‘whole human race’. They were citizens of the world as well as members of the Church and so had a duty to support people outside their own immediate circles of family and friends.

Now life is a struggle for many of us. Finding and keeping a job, meeting the needs of children and caring for dependants, paying the mortgage, the gas and electricity and other bills, sustaining a relationship, running a home and meeting all the other demands of modern-day life is not easy. Sometimes it is extremely hard to the point where life becomes a grind and not a gift.

However, compared with the truly poor of this world, not least those refugees fleeing their homelands for a better life here, you and I have very fortunate and privileged lives. Maybe this Advent we might do what we can to express our love for Christ in practical ways that will benefit them and others in need, in whom Jesus he is to be found as well as in the babe of Bethlehem.

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
28 November 2021

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