Life on this earth is a temporary arrangement at best. Millions of years ago, some unknown object apparently collided with our planet, wiping out almost all living things. It could happen again at any time. Thousands of thermonuclear weapons have been produced and stockpiled since the end of World War II, and we probably came close to destroying ourselves more than once in the course of the Cold War. Human-produced global warming already is changing weather patterns, and increasing desertification of croplands could bring about worldwide famine and widespread death. And even if we get through all of that, we know that eventually our sun will burn out and the earth will come to an end.

Today’s gospel focuses the attention of Christians on the inevitable end of the present age. Jesus describes it in cataclysmic terms. “In those days,” he warns, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and
the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” He also assures us that it will undoubtedly happen at a time we least expect. “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

Destruction, however, is by no means the last word in the Lord’s teaching. The end of things as we know them, Jesus, assures us, ushers in a new reality when God’s kingdom is all in all. “Then [you] will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” he says. “Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” And the kingdom shall last forever.

Since one way or another the present age will certainly come to a close, it would seem that this world’s values and priorities probably can’t translate very well into those of an eternal order. And of course they don’t. Our present preoccupation with financial security isn’t a good fit in a kingdom where what we give away is the true measure of worth. Our current lust after power over others will surely prove counterproductive in an eternity which values service to others. And our seeking after personal prestige and honor will count for nothing in an age where giving glory to God is everything.

Today’s gospel reminds us that the present age is destined to pass away, and that the kingdom will arrive at any time. So “what I say to you,” says Jesus, “I say to all: Keep awake.”