Audrey was in court because she had been ticketed for driving through a red light. She told the judge she was a schoolteacher and needed to have her case heard immediately so she could get back to class. A wild gleam came into the judge’s eye. “Madam,” he said, “I’ve waited years to have a teacher in this court. Now sit down at that table and write 500 times ‘I drove through a red light.’”
Today’s Gospel tells of a judgment with far more serious consequences than Audrey faced in traffic court. We will “stand before the Son of Man.” We, like every human being, will face judgment at the moment of death. “That day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.”
In the Gospel Jesus uses apocalyptic language: signs in the sun, moon, and stars, the roaring of waves, the powers of heaven being shaken, people dying of fright. He seems to be foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This, in turn, foreshadows terrible times faced by every generation, and the death that no one can escape. Why does he tell of such times? Because he wants us to live in such a way that when this world ends for us, we will feel not terror, but a joyful confidence. Like our Blessed Mother, we can wait in hope for the coming of Christ.
The Gospel, especially in this Year of Mercy, invites us to remember that life extends beyond the grave. We must not be “drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” Death is not a red light that brings the terrible penalty of oblivion. If we see this life as an invitation to know, love, and serve God, death will be the time to hear Jesus say: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”