Matthew 24:37-44; First Sunday of Advent
I was one of the 174 million people who watched Avengers: Infinity War last year. So, P300 of the US$2 billion that Marvel Studios made—was mine! But when half the Avengers started “ashifying,” along with half of all human life in the universe, leaving us all without a happy ending, I wanted to go back to the counter to say, “Miss, give me back my money.” Remember that scene? It was very tragic; especially when Spider-Man started to notice he was disintegrating. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, panic-stricken. Finally getting it, he flung himself at Tony Stark, embraced him and cried, “ I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go. Spare me, please! I don’t wanna go!” Before he dissolved into ashes, he looked at Tony Stark one last time and said, “I’m sorry.”
“So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man,” today’s Gospel says. “Two men will be out in the field. One will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and one will be left.” Well, from now on, this passage will forever be graphically represented in my head by that last scene from Infinity War. I wonder if Marvel ever got the idea from today’s Gospel, where Matthew has Jesus talking about the coming of the Son of Man. But when? Nobody knows. How? Well, that way: one will be taken away, the other left behind. Still, Matthew leaves many questions unanswered. Like, is the one taken away the naughty, and the one left behind, the nice? Or is it the other way around? Matthew doesn’t say. And if the nice guy is the one taken away (to be with God, I suppose?), is it so bad to be the one left behind? I mean, to be kept alive here on the earth, even for a bad guy, it’s really not such a bad thing, is it?
But whether yesterday or today, nobody knows what the “coming of the Son of Man” will be like. Back in Matthew’s day, though, the early Christians really thought Jesus would be returning very soon after the Ascension, and that he would reward his followers and punish his enemies, especially those responsible for his death. But Jesus did not return. Still, they waited. And the longer the wait, the more elaborate the images of the Final Judgment became, even if nobody knew for sure what would happen. This is why I tell my students, “When you guys become priests, please do the Church a favor. Don’t add your own hallucinations to the already bizarre speculations about the end of the world. Not especially when you just want more attendance at mass.” Too many visionaries and doomsday prophets have predicted when and how the world will end. How many of them were right? None. Not one. Not even close.
Nevertheless…suppose you and I knew that for every pair of us (and you can pair up with anyone you wish), suppose we knew that for every pair of us, one will be taken away and one will remain, like, tomorrow, or the next day. Can you imagine how that would change the ways we regard each other, how we treat each other today? If we knew the day and the hour that God will make his final choice on whom to take and whom to leave behind, one of two people in our household, in our families, in our friendships—can you imagine how God’s final choice will also determine our choices today, especially regarding one another: like, what words we will say to each other versus what to just keep to ourselves, or how we say them; or like, what things in each other we will celebrate and appreciate and thank, versus those we will choose to just let go of, and forgive, and forget? Before God makes his final choice on us, I’m sure we will also choose kindness more than meanness; and choose to be humbler rather than imperious; and choose to thank more, instead of to whine and complain. And we will choose to do each other favors out of real generosity, rather than out of this strange need to own the other who owes us. And instead of smother and control, we will choose to let be and set free.
Who knows when the world will end? Who knows whom God will choose to take with him and whom to leave behind? We do know for sure that God’s final choice will have everything to do with our everyday choices—especially on how we treat and regard one another in this life, here on earth, today. For we always have a choice, dear sisters and brothers. We’re never stuck with just one way of treating and regarding one another. There’s always another way, a better way. There’s always a righter, kinder way, sisters and brothers, isn’t there? There’s always a more respectful approach, a more sincerely generous way, a more freeing, more selfless disposition in treating and regarding one another.
The Advent Season, sisters and brothers, is like Lent, as you know. It’s a season of penitence and renewal. So, we’re again given a time when we can be more mindful of our choices; a time to beg God for the grace of choosing well, especially how we regard and treat each other. And by the way, to choose well doesn’t just mean to choose good over bad, or nice over naughty. To choose well also means to choose the better over the good, especially if there is such an option.
Were God to snap his fingers someday, and we started to notice ourselves “ashifying,” as long as we knew we made the right choice, then we could fling ourselves to people we loved. But instead of crying, “I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go,” we would be able to say, “I’ll go ahead, but I will see you soon.” And instead of our last words being “I’m sorry,” they would rather be, “Thank you for everything. I love you.” So, here’s to an Advent of better choices. Amen.
*image from the Internet