42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
“Keep awake.” Jesus does not say, with Paul, “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep;” he says, “Keep awake.” Somewhere between Jesus and Paul people have fallen asleep.
Or are drifting off.
Maybe Paul has in mind that lethargic half sleep as the football game makes your eyes heavy after Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s not tryptophan. They keep telling us it’s not the tryptophan. It’s the full belly.
Jesus tells his followers to keep awake in the garden, while Jesus sweats blood, so intense is his prayer. But they have full bellies – and not a little wine – and the night is warm and dark. Three times they fall asleep. Three times Jesus wakes them.
Full bellies are not just heavy on the eyelids; they are heavy on the soul. There is a reason the church keeps days of fasting: full bellies are a danger to the spirit. They cause us to forget what it is like to be hungry. They deaden our sympathy. They blind us to those who are in need. It is not so hard to cut food stamps when you dine at Washington’s finest restaurants on the lobbyist’s dime and want not for life’s comforts. The poor become numbers on a spreadsheet, figures on a budget, statistics, rather than a woman with children in a neighborhood with little work.
The poor are more generous than the wealthy, as a percentage of their income. They know what it is like to be without. They know how easily it can happen. They know how much we depend on one another. Full bellies make us think we do not need others – or that they do not need us.
The prophet says to wake up. Jesus says to keep awake. Keep awake, because you have already been wakened in Christ. Keep awake, because you have already been wakened by and for the grace of God. You have been wakened into the love of God. You have been raised with Christ into newness of life. You the disciples at Emmaus who have recognized the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. You are the woman at the well who has tasted the water of life and been restored to her community. You are the blind man who has seen the light shining in the darkness – the light the darkness cannot extinguish. “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.” “You have been born anew into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You have seen the reign of God. You have seen the day of mercy. You have heard the word that called you forth with Lazarus from the realm of spiritual death.
Keep awake. Keep awake to the wonder of heaven’s grace. Keep awake to the joy of God’s dawning reign. Keep awake to the love and work of God. Do not be lulled by full bellies back into sleep. Do not be lulled into hardness of heart. Do not let your hearts calcify into stone.
Outside, as I write this, there is, on the streets of New York in December, a man going through the garbage cans looking for bottles he can return for the few cents he is able to get for their redemption.
Keep awake. You are his brother.