Some expressions just always take the subjunctive. It is not always obvious, predictable or explicable based on the ‘rules’ even if, in a round about way, it fits with them. Avant que always takes the subjunctive. I wouldn’t try to understand these and that is not the way native French speakers learn them either - better to “learn” them by acquisition in context as they come along.
The link below might be helpful.
Further to Maarten's point -- the nearest aspect that occurs to me is an element of "emotion".
The need to consider the potential effect of a particular (proposed) action -- it's all a bit speculative on my part though.
Hi Jeff: For minimal "head scratching" go with Maarten. Some expressions de facto take the subjunctive! afin que;bien que;quoique etc etc.
Once you encounter and learn to identify these expressions, then go with JIm's "potential effect" "element of emotion" to try and get why the subjunctive. Hint... these conjuctive expressions often add an emotion of negative or contrary reaction or put a purpose/condition on the "favour" of the main clause.
Now to directly accept your challenge. What if I said "Man! You arrived before I finished my homework"! Pretty subjective (and contrary) reaction to your early arrival eh. Still , as Maarten said, for that particular sentence you would have had to recognize the expression"avant que" first.
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