The Cares of This Life

The Cares of This Life

First Sunday of Advent. Fr Denis Minns preaches on the things Jesus warns his disciples against concerning the Day of the Lord.

But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare.

Dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life might seem a rather curious trio of things for Jesus to warn his disciples against. Our puzzlement will not be lessened if we agree with the Vulgate translation that the first thing Jesus warned might weigh down the heart was not dissipation, or debauchery, or over-indulgence, as some English versions have it, but rather the result of these things — crapulence, or, in plainer English, a hangover.

Those who are drunk will not be alert enough to notice the signs of the approaching Kingdom, and the hungover, even if they do hear the last trump, are likely to wish that they hadn’t. But why should Jesus feel that his disciples are in need of a warning about drunkenness and its consequences? The gospels hardly suggest that this was a besetting sin of theirs.

Jesus, it is true, was called a drunkard by his enemies. And it is open to question whether, at the Marriage Feast of Cana, Mary’s concern that the wine supply should be replenished had something to do with the coincidence of the sudden arrival at the feast of Jesus and his disciples and the sudden disappearance of all the wine. Even so, this is thin evidence to pin a charge of bibulousness on them.

But perhaps it is not a danger from that quarter that Jesus was warning his disciples against, at all. Perhaps it was, in fact, the danger from its opposite, the third thing the disciples are warned against: anxiety about the affairs of every-day life, the kind of anxiety that the drunken cannot feel, and that the crapulent do not want to feel. That is just the kind of anxiety to which sober people are much given — unavoidable anxiety about necessary things: about passing exams, for example, or about getting a job, and keeping it, about feeding, clothing, and housing a family, about educating children, about providing for elderly parents, or for one’s own retirement.

You don’t have to worry about these things when you are drunk, and you can’t worry about them when you are hungover. But perhaps Jesus is saying to the virtuously sober that they need to be on guard against these anxieties, unavoidable though they are, lest they so weigh down their hearts that they will be no better off than drunkards in, or just out of, their cups.

The drunken and the hungover will not be alert enough to notice the coming of the kingdom: that much is obvious. But we are not in a position to congratulate ourselves if we can say, honestly and confidently, that we are not like that. For precisely because we are not like that, it is all the more likely that we will be soberly anxious about the necessities of life. And that anxiety might expose us to the very same risk as the drunkard’s hangover: the risk of not noticing the coming of that day, of not noticing the harbingers of the Kingdom, as they break in upon our own lives, and the lives of those around us.

If overanxiety about the ordinary affairs of life is to be avoided, so too is overanxiety about the extraordinary things foreshadowed in the Scriptures. Jeremiah prophesied for the House of Israel and the House of Judah a future of justice, righteousness and security. A future, then, to be looked forward to with eager longing. But the Christians of Thessalonia to whom St Paul wrote were very anxious about the coming of that Kingdom.

St Paul reminded them that they were destined not for God’s wrath, but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. For that reason they were to go on doing what they had learnt from the Lord Jesus, doing so more and more, increasing and abounding in love for one another and for all people, so that their hearts would be strengthened in holiness, and they would be blameless before their God and Father, at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Readings: Jer 33:14-16 | 1 Thess 3:12-4:2 | Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Fr Denis Minns is a son of the Province of Australia, but formerly served as Prior of Blackfriars, Oxford, and was a member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford.