May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!” (Mark 13:36–37).
I am pondering the passage at Mark 13:36, and my thoughts return to the winter of 1943, to a nineteen-year-old draftee at Camp Gordon, now Fort Gordon, Georgia. The old Springfield rifle is heavy, the Georgia winters are damp and cold and dark and – Lord, Gawd! – I’ve gotta walk guard for four hours.
And do I ever watch! I watch for the officer of the guard. If he hears a weak challenge (“Halt! Who goes there?”) or finds me forgetful of the password (Geronimo) or hiding or smoking, it’s weekend KP for a month. The minutes and hours drag agonizingly by. I’m cold to the bone. Do I ever watch for six in the morning and the dawn!
So, in this way, the military forced “watching” on me. I didn’t choose it. But “watching” should be voluntary, should be a nonviolent way of life. Scripture is full of it:
Yes, like the eyes of a servant on the hand of his master. Like the eyes of a maid on the hand of her mistress. So our eyes are on the Lord our God till we are shown favor (Psalm 123:2).
My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak. More than sentinels for daybreak let Israel look for the Lord (Psalm 130:6).
Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come (Matthew 24:42).
Be sure of this: If the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into (Luke 12:39).
Jesus warns us against “sleeping,” against being out of it while the world lurches on in its mindless, violent way. Jesus summons us to regard the world as Gethsemane, to watch and stay awake. Three times he had to awaken Peter, James, and John in the garden as he suffered their abandonment when they slept and later their abandonment in his time of greatest need.
Psychological studies reveal that Americans live in less than forty percent awareness, as though our minds and spirits cringe before the banality and ugliness of national life. Such studies imply an enormous waste of potential lost to trivial pursuits – game-playing, fantasizing, daydreaming, television, self-pity, brooding, boredom, gluttony in food or drink. Lost is the prospect of personal and social renewal, reading, study, meditation, prayer, teaching, service to the poor, justice and peacemaking, and nonviolent resistance to power-mongering government and corporations. The scripture likens such crippled attentiveness to death – death before one dies.
Yes, Jesus commands us to wake and watch. Watch for who or what? Watch for the Holy Spirit of God who teaches us the life of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit continues the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus, consecrating people unto Him:
The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you (John 14:26).
Upon request, the Holy Spirit will shower us with gifts that help us to become like Christ: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fear of God, fortitude. Upon request, the Holy Spirit will give us the faith necessary to control our fear. “I believe, God; help my unbelief.” Upon request, the Holy Spirit will speak the word of God to our hearts, the word of truth and life.
Watch the words of others, since God often speaks to us through sisters and brothers. Watch for conformity between words and deeds, and when the two are the same, watch only their deeds. Watch for heroic women and men who give their lives tending victims – the bombed, starved, raped, tortured – and to exposing the victimizers from within prison and without. Watch the hope that they give you by the speech of their lives, and then dare to extend hope to others.
U.S. Army photograph by Sgt. Teddy Wade.