In today's Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus says something mysterious. Discussing the end times, He tells us that, just as in the days of Noah, people will be going about their everyday business. Then, suddenly, “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.”
The reading calls forth all kinds of questions. What does Jesus mean? Who will be taken? Who will be left? Why will the those who are taken be taken? Why will those who are left be left?
Our Protestant brothers and sisters provide ready answers to these questions. They claim that the righteous, those who have been saved, will be taken, swept up away from the earth. The wicked will be left behind.
Catholic theologian and Scripture scholar Dr. Scott Hahn offers another interpretation. He maintains that Jesus meant the opposite of what most Protestants believe: the wicked are the ones who will be taken away while the righteous, those who have maintained a covenant with God, will be left to enjoy a new Heaven and a new earth. Consider, Dr. Hahn says, that just before Jesus speaks these words, He has been talking about the days of Noah. Who was left behind in those days? Noah and his family, those who listened to and obeyed God. Who was taken away? Everyone else as God cleared the world of the sin that had so corrupted it. With the flood, God remade creation. Those who served Him remained to enjoy it. Therefore, Dr. Hahn continues, it makes sense that when God makes a new creation at the end of time, a new Heaven and a new earth, those who serve Him will remain to enjoy it. The rest will be swept away into the eternal fire.
Matthew's original Greek can support Dr. Hahn's reading. The Greek word for “left” is aphiēmi, and it can mean “to forgive” or “to remit punishment.” So it could suggest that those left behind are those who are forgiven and have escaped punishment.
After uttering these mysterious words, Jesus offers some excellent advice: “Therefore, stay awake!” No one knows when the end times will come. The day and the hour is a mystery to us, but we must be prepared and watchful so that it doesn't catch us by surprise.
Jesus offers a parable to help us understand. “Be sure of this:” He says, “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.” We are to stay awake and catch God breaking into our house. We must be prepared for His coming. We must be ready to greet Him. Unlike the master in the parable, we should welcome God as He breaks into our house because we can be sure that if we are ready for Him, He will recreate our house into something better than we can ever imagine.
This Advent, then, let us follow Jesus' command: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”