by Father Mike Stubbs
Tragedy often appears to strike at random. Consider, for example, small children killed in the crossfire of gang shootings, or victims of cancer or stroke. It looks as though there is no rhyme or reason to it. One person is taken, another left behind.
The situation in the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Mt 24:37-44, sounds very similar: “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.”
On the surface, it may look as though the one being taken and the other being left amounts to pure luck. After all, the two are indistinguishable, one from the other. But the context of the reading suggests that there is a reason for their different fates. The reading cautions us: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
When the Son of Man arrives, he brings judgment. Those not caught off guard will enjoy salvation. Those who are not watchful will suffer a different fate. It was not obvious which of the two men was watchful and alert for the coming of the Son of Man and which was not. Neither was it obvious which of the two women was similarly watchful and which was not. But at the arrival of the Son of Man, what was hidden will be revealed.
When Luke’s Gospel was being written, the early Christians expected the imminent return of Christ in glory. At the same time, they did not know the exact day or hour: “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” This uncertainty tempted them to grow slack and less attentive.
In our own day and age, the long delay in Christ’s return has caused Christians to no longer expect an imminent return. Similarly, though, we are tempted to lessen our preparation for that event. We even wonder if he is ever coming back.
All this uncertainty can tempt us to a lack of preparation. We might even say that this follows an unfortunate national tendency. So many older Americans have not saved adequately for retirement. Too often, when disaster approaches, we have stuck our heads in the sand.
Preparation is key. But the preparation that the Gospel points to does not involve laying in supplies of food and water, or building a bomb shelter. It is the spiritual preparation that consists of living according to the values of Christ, of following his teachings.
Then we will be prepared, no matter what happens.