In the Gospel Reading, Christ gives a warning about his coming again. Stay awake and wait for me, he says, or else it will be for you the way it was for the people left behind in Noah’s time.
Those people watched Noah build his big boat on dry land, and they must have laughed at him. They weren’t worried. They ate their dinners and held their weddings just as always. And then the flood came. In one day, it swept them all away.
And here is what Christ says: It will be like this when I come again; those who weren’t waiting for me will be left behind when I return.
These are puzzling words. Are we supposed to expect Armageddon any day now, for every day of our lives? Will we be left behind if we don’t?
Well, look at Noah’s flood. Human beings had gotten so evil that it began to look as if God had made a mistake in creating them. So, in the flood, God did something like an autologous bone marrow transplant on the human race. God sifted through the bad cancerous lump of humanity and found a few human beings who looked morally and spiritually healthy. The idea was to reproduce those spiritually healthy human beings after the flood, when the evil people were gone. By this means, the human race could have a rebirth.
The people who laughed at Noah’s boat were so evil that they could be waked up to their spiritual peril only when the water rose. Their only chance of salvation came in the catastrophe of the flood when the fear of death may have prompted them to turn to the Lord for salvation. There are things much worse than physical death.
But physical death is the end of the line as far as chances for salvation go. Those who will not turn to the Lord before they die will just be left behind, without the Lord, as Christ says. They will have missed the boat permanently.
So Christ isn’t directing us to keep an anxious eye out for Armageddon’s advent. Any day now—who knows when?—we may die. What we need to be waiting for while we live is Christ. If we live in expectation of the Lord’s coming for us, we will not be left behind on that day.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University