Rev. John Kha Tran

A pastor dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy who's dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replies, "I'm Joe Cohen, taxi-driver, of New York City."

Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the taxi-driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff and come in." The taxi-driver goes into Heaven with his robe and staff, thousands of people and angels greet him with music and joyful songs.

And it's the pastor’s turn. He stands erect and booms out, "I am Joseph Young, pastor of Saint Mary's church for the last forty-three years."

Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the minister, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and come on in."

"Just a minute," says the pastor. "That man was a taxi-driver, skipping church on many Sundays, and he gets a silken robe and golden staff. And I get only a cotton robe and wooden staff. How can this be?"

"Up here, we work by results," says Saint Peter. "While you preached, people fell asleep; while he drove, people stayed alert and prayed."

“Stay awake and be prepared.” Jesus knows that there is a deadly threat approaching us if we do not stay alert. We stay awake because we do not want something bad happens to us. We stay awake because we want to avoid the avoidable.

Security Alert

When you travel by air nowadays, the experience of being alert and be prepared is not unfamiliar to us. After Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, attempted to blow up an airplane, we had to take off our shoes at the airport’s security checkpoint. Another attack led to a ban on liquid bottles of all kinds. After the Yemeni bombs, out went printer cartridges in luggage. Now after the underwear bomber Abdulmutallab, the revealing full-body scanner is being used. To enter into the terminal at the airport, we have to go through a security check and clearly seen as innocent, honest and not harmful travelers. The whole purpose of this security procedure is to catch the ‘bad guys’ and isolate them.

Protecting Lives

Philip Burdette, a federal security supervisor at the Baltimore/Washington airport spoke to Transportation Security Agency officers about the need for stepped up security, “I get paid to be paranoid, and so do you.”  This is called ‘security alert.” We have to be alert to protect lives.  At the airport, travelers might encounter an officer assessing them with a smile assuming he/she is merely an official greeter. But that is a behavior detection officer looking for anomalies in behaviors of the flying public.

New digital technologies, the full body scans, strip us bare without our having to remove a single stitch of clothing. It is through the power of its light that we are revealed right down to our skin. The intensity and wavelength of the light allows nothing on our body to remain hidden.

In the second reading, Saint Paul is talking about a different kind of intensity and wavelength of light here. He is talking about a full life scan to identify all bad and negative behaviors: orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry, jealousy and desires of the flesh. These are the deadly behaviors. They bring harms to our souls. They are a threat to our eternal life.  So St. Paul tells us to “throw off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light in order to protect our spiritual life.

Opt-out or Conform

There is a heated debate on ‘full body scans.” Some groups are advocating an organized protest against full body scans. A homeland security spokesman assured travelers that they all had complete freedom to choose whether they wanted to go through a full body scan or pat-down--or “not.” Of course, if they choose “not” then they would “not” be allowed on the airplane.

We can also choose to opt-out not to listen to Jesus’s warning and to Paul’s recommendation of full life scans. We can continue to have bad and negative behaviors if we chose to do so. We can continue to behave like the people in the days of Noah. They chose not to believe in God’s warning. They were drinking, eating, marrying and giving in marriage as if there would be no other life beyond this life. They ridiculed Noah and his family taking times to build the ship protecting his family from the great flood. If we chose to opt out, the consequence of opting out is that we will not be allowed to enter into the Kingdom of God.

I had Your Word

Before a young man left for a long journey he handed a letter to the woman he intended to marry. “It is a pledge of my honor and love,” the young man assured her.

Days turned into months and months into years, but the young woman never heard from her beloved. As time passed she became more and more depressed. The young woman’s friends urged her to forget the traveler and to begin to see other men. She steadfastly refused. One day while looking through her desk she discovered the letter her beloved had left her. She read it slowly and her spirits lifted. In the days ahead, she read and reread the letter many times. It gave her great comfort.

Finally, after many years, the young man returned home. “I am grateful, but amazed, that you are still waiting for me. How was it possible for you to remain faithful during my long absence? He asked.

“Even you don’t understand?” the young woman said. “I believed in you because I had your word, in the letter.”1

Like the young woman in the story, she doesn’t listen to her friends urging her to forget about her fiancé and just goes and see other men. We have Jesus’ words as well. It is possible for us to be faithfully waiting for Jesus’ coming if we chose not to opt out, but to trust in his words. Jesus is telling us to stay awake and be prepared.  

1. William R. White. Stories for the Journey. The Letter, p. 26.