As many of you know, I have a great fascination for books. It is not uncommon for me to wander through a used bookstore looking for interesting titles as well as bargains. In fact, some years ago as I was browsing through one of these bookstores I came across an interesting book by Frank Kendig and Richard Hutton entitled Life Spans, or How Long Things Last. In it, I discovered some interesting facts. For example, I discovered that the average life of baseball shoes worn by your favorite major league star is only two months. Even more surprising, you discover that the average life of the stick used by one's favorite hockey player is only two games. You also discover that the average life of a soldier's boots in peacetime is fifteen months, while in wartime it drops to only three months.
While the lifespans of certain things are shorter than we might think, the lifespans of other things are quite long. For example, a beer can left behind by someone camping on a mountain will still be there 80 years from now. And a leather shoe left behind at the same site will be there 50 years from now. Finally, the average rock that protrudes from the ground will still be there a thousand years from now.
But whatever it is, a hockey stick, a beer can, or a rock - the authors assure us that it will eventually disappear. For nothing lasts forever. What is true of these material objects is also true of human beings. We too will eventually disappear. None of us will last forever in the life we know now. And that's precisely the point that Jesus makes in today's gospel. Isn't that the reason why we hear the sobering warning from his lips this day: Light your lamps...You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
While Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus is referring here to his Second Coming, theologians assure us that the Lord's words may also be understood as referring to the end of our own individual lives - the hour of our death. And for that moment, Jesus encourages us to be prepared.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had a favorite story that touches on this point of preparedness. The story concerns a sailor who was shipwrecked and washed ashore on a South Pacific island. He was greeted enthusiastically by natives. They clapped and sang, hoisted him on their shoulders, carried him to their village, and sat him on a golden throne.
Little by little, the sailor learned what was going on. The islanders had a custom of occasionally making a man king for a year. During his kingship he could order his subjects to do anything within reason, and they would obey him without question. The sailor was delighted that he had been chosen to be the king. He couldn't believe his good fortune. Then one day he began to wonder what happened to a king when his year of kingship ended. That's when his excitement and enthusiasm came to an abrupt end. He discovered that at the end of his kingship, he would be banished to a barren island, called "King's Island". There he would be left to starve to death as a sacrifice to the gods. After the sailor recovered from his shock, he slowly began to put together a plan.
As a king, he ordered the carpenters of the island to build a fleet of small boats. When the boats were ready, he ordered the farmers of the island to dig up fruit trees and plants, put then in the boats, and transplant them on King's Island. Finally, he ordered the stone masons to build a house on King's Island. In this way, the sailor prepared carefully for the day when his kingship would end and he would be banished to King's Island.
And Jesus tells us: ...provide an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy..." The Lord is inviting us to broaden the moral horizons of our lives to realize that you and I have a future destiny that will depend on how we have lived our lives in the present moment. That future destiny, however, is grasped by faith and not by sight. A faith, as the author to the Hebrews reminds us, that is more a matter of the heart that trusts in love than the science of cold logic. For in the end, as St. Paul so eloquently reminds us, only three things will last - faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love.