by Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” St. Matthew 24:42-44.
I remember the old days when we had to book a call to Kerala and wait for the telephone operator to call us back in few hours or some instances even after a day or so. Maybe it's waiting for someone to respond to an EMAIL you've sent. Waiting is dreadful. Isn’t it? We tend to give up after a while. Do you remember the story in the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus goes away to pray, and when He returns the disciples were sleeping. They simply could not stay awake. He chastises them. "Can't you stay awake with Me?" Sleep characterizes complacency, lack of vigilance, carelessness.
I am sure many of us remember the Elizabeth Smart story. Elizabeth was abducted from her own house while everyone was sleeping. There they were, sleeping peacefully, and the daughter was taken right from their home. And what allowed it to happen? A lack of vigilance, a lack of watchfulness. A first-floor window was left open, through which the kidnapper was able to easily gain entry to the house.
We witnessed many disasters in this past: the devastating tsunami in December 2004; the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; the earthquake in Pakistan and India; Hurricane Wilma in Florida and Mexico; and, the tornados in Indiana and Kentucky. Many in this world have speculated whether or not these were signs of the end times. No one knows– not even he– the exact day, or the hour, when the Son of Man will come in clouds with great power and glory. Instead, Jesus says: Stay alert. Be watchful. Do not fall asleep. Keep awake. Be ready.
Lives of many Christians in this world are like those people in Sardis. In Revelation 3:1-6, it speaks of Sardis; a city built on Mount Tumulus. In the sixth century B.C. she was one of the most powerful and richest cities of the ancient world. Christ says to the people of Sardis, "I know your deeds." From the outside, anyway, this is a church living out her faith. Anyone looking in would be impressed by the good this church does. But Christ does not go by outward appearances. He looks at the heart; He looks at what is within.
When Christ looked in the hearts of the church members in Sardis He was not at all impressed as the people of the world were impressed. He says, "I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God." The church of Sardis is like the fig tree of Matthew 21:19: from a distance you see lots of leaves and think it is a healthy tree; but up close you discover it has no fruit. The church of Sardis puts up a good and impressive appearance but there is nothing really there.
The key word here is "outward." The spirituality of us, our works, our faith, our love, our religious activities, they are all outward. Our Christianity often is only formal and external, and not inward. He "who holds the seven spirits of God" knows that our spirituality is not infused with the life-giving Spirit. The church of Sardis is a perfect example of Christianity which is all outward and nominal, not at all inward or real. Christ goes further than this in His condemnation of the Sardis church: "you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
Many of us think there is still time. We don't need to worry about us today, because there is always tomorrow. We don't need to worry about judgment day today, because there is always the future to take care of that. "I don't have to be ready today, because there is always tomorrow." Yet with what Jesus has been saying about the suddenness of the hour, we must always be ready.
Are you keeping watch? When something takes a long time to happen, it can catch people unprepared. Remember the story Jesus told of the five wise and five foolish virgins? The custom was that they were to wait for the coming of the bridegroom. And the bridegroom was coming at a time that they did not expect him. In fact, the bridegroom would work to make it a game, actually trying to catch people unprepared. That meant he would usually come at night, and that meant that those who wanted to accompany him would have to have lamps and oil for the grand procession. Of course, the five wise virgins brought extra oil, while the five foolish ones did not. Then, while the foolish ones were out buying oil, the bridegroom comes, the door is shut, and they lose out.
There are no close seconds on being ready. You either are or you are not. When something takes a long time to happen, you can sometimes be unprepared. When we wait for a long time, we get impatient... and that can cause us to want to take matters into our own hands rather than waiting for the Lord. Of course, it's easy to dismiss the coming of judgment day when we think of it as that day, which will happen, someday. But it's not that far away. Something we dare not lose sight of is - the judgment day. And so, it is not a matter of "is it coming sooner or later"... because, sooner or later, it will come for all of us, for each of us.
Jesus gives us an order, "what I say to you, I say to everyone: stay awake!" Revelation 16:15 says, "Blessed is the one who stays awake". As we watch, we are connected into the God Who watches us. God's watchfulness over us includes His care of us, what we in catechism class called "divine providence" or providing for all our needs. Everything you have, all that you need for each day is provided to you by God Himself.
Not only does God provide for all our physical needs, but He provided His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus came, giving us His life as our replacement on the cross. He came, providing salvation for us. Through the Holy Liturgy, His Holy precious blood is given to us with His body to eat and to drink. Through this sacrament, and through His Word, He provides the power to obey His command and to keep watch, to stay awake.
We must realize that the Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. As God told Cain when he was angry about Abel being given credit for a better sacrifice, "Sin is crouching at your door; you must master it, or it will destroy you." In this world of sin, vigilance is always called for.
Today, therefore, Christ is asking each one of us to, “repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19). When we come to Him in repentance, the grace of His forgiveness restores us to fellowship with Him.
It's easy to think of Judgment day as a non-issue in our lives, because it is so far away. However, for each and every one of us... judgment day is as close as our last breath. Therefore, my dear friends in Christ -- let us always be watchful.
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