Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:33
When I was a child going to Sunday school (we were Southern Baptist at the time), this is one of the teachings that stuck with me long after church was out. I suppose it had something to do with the idea that children should always be on their best behavior in case an adult is watching, or something like that. “Be good” was pretty much my mantra at the time.
As an adult, I read this passage somewhat differently. Sure, it can still be interpreted as suggesting that people should always be acting as though Jesus was coming back tomorrow. It’s clear to me that many people still feel this way when I see jokes like “Jesus is coming! Look busy!” As though Jesus is the boss who will fire us for being lazy.
Instead, I read it as a reminder to be wary of being turned away from our mission. Be careful that we don’t become so wrapped up in our own experiences that we neglect our task to make life better for everyone. This is especially important for people in privileged positions in society. Just because I don’t have to worry about some issues, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care about them or work to improve them. I must make the effort to become and remain aware of issues that negatively impact others, and work to reconcile them.
On a more personal level, I also read this as a reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one, and that at any time I could lose someone dear to me. Or that I may be the one to leave them. And because of this uncertainty and impermanence of life, it is important to be mindful during the joyful moments, with the knowledge that they are precious.