When we read this gospel passage, we may feel like starting to
take some steps to be ready for that most important and definitive encounter
with the Lord. The problem is that we do not know when that encounter will
take place and, at least if we are in relatively good health, we do not see
such preparation as urgent. But today’s gospel reading is not about preparation,
it is about preparedness. Not about getting ready, but about living ready.
Let me illustrate the distinction.
Some years ago I was working during the summer in the experimental lab of
an engine manufacturing company. The lab building was separated from the
rest of the plant and, besides most workers being lax about safety rules,
there was a lot of loafing going on at the lab. Occasionally the chief engineers
from the main building would come to the lab and, as soon as our secretary
spotted them on their way, she would ring a prearranged code to let everyone
know. Quickly all got to their working stations, put on the required protective
goggles, and adopted a very fake air of productivity. That kind of readiness
on short notice is what I call preparation.
I have become convinced however that, as far as they are concerned, most
people today die unexpectedly. This is obvious in cases of accidents, lethal
assaults, heart attacks, brain hemorrhages etc. But my experience is that
most people who get sick do not expect to die —especially with current medical
technology— and all too often the families make sure the sick person does
not know that death is a likely outcome. By the time death is imminent and
denial by others is no longer sustainable, the sick person has lost consciousness
and is no longer able to engage in “preparation” on short notice.
As for preparedness, we have all seen commercials or documentaries where
the action is suddenly stopped and we see smiles that appear to have been
frozen for ever. Those people did not smile for the camera as in a studio
photo, they just were smiling when the action stopped and their smiles became
permanent. That is what I call preparedness, as distinct from preparation.
The Lord is challenging us to preparedness, because there will not be an
accomplice secretary or a prearranged code to afford us time for preparation.
The challenge is not about dying face to God, but about living face to God.
After all, if we live face to God, how else could we die? Death will only
make permanent our smile, our being face to God.