Nov. 11, 2017

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY, 2017

WHEN WISDOM GUIDES

 Readings: 1st- Wis. 6:12-16; 2nd- 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Gospel- Matt. 25: 1-13

The parable of the ten virgins is a popular one in the Scriptures- five are wise while five are foolish. The parable has great apocalyptic features. It invites Christians to be aware of the last things: heaven, hell and judgment at the end of time. It calls our attention to the separation of the good and the bad, the useful and the useless. The parable is set on the ancient Jewish custom whereby the bride goes ahead in procession to meet the bridegroom and to share in the wedding banquet. It therefore foreshadows the wedding feast of the Lamb. Here, Jesus draws the attention of his followers to the implications of being prepared for his coming (Parousia).

Jesus begins the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). The narrative of a wedding preparation is important because of the level of investment (time and energy) that goes with it. Meeting with the bridegroom goes with excitement, but importantly it demands wisdom because all who await the coming of the bridegroom are expected to be well prepared. They should have sufficient oil which in this case is a symbol of good works. As Christians awaiting the coming of Christ, we need to have the oil of love, mercy, justice and faith all the time.

In the parable of the ten virgins, we see some puzzles that seem to contradict the idea of love and sharing. First, we see that all ten virgins “fall asleep”. They are only awakened at the invitation that the Bridegroom is approaching. Five of them are called “wise”; they have got enough oil for their lamps; five are called “foolish” because they have no oil. These five who have no oil attempt to borrow oil from the others, but they are refused. The five foolish ones then attempt to rush to the market to purchase oil, but it is too late. Unfortunately, the bridegroom comes when they are away. They are locked outside of his doors. They request to enter, but he says, “Truly, truly, I do not know you.” Doesn’t that sound a bit harsh to these ladies who spend their time waiting for his arrival?

The image of falling asleep here can be pictured in the second reading where Saint Paul remarks, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep”. Saint John Chrysostom helps us with a better understanding of the parable of the ten virgins in his teaching on Matthew’s gospel. The ten virgins have all fallen asleep. It implies that the virgins have passed away. They are awakened with the sudden announcement that all of us will hear one day: “Behold the Bridegroom (the King and the Judge of all mankind)! Come out to meet him!” Saint John Chrysostom explains that there are five maidens who have much oil, but no money. There are another five who have money, but no oil. The virgins who have money but no oil are those who do not fully invest their “talent” that the Master gives them. 

The five maidens who are lacking oil either think that they can take their worldly goods with them or they think, “I’ll have time to repent and do good later.” Their lack of oil is that they procrastinate and, without warning, “fell asleep” until the sudden announcement of the bridegroom’s arrival. They lack sufficient good deeds, oil for keeping their lamps burning. They attempt to borrow the good deeds of others, to compensate for their lack at the last minute, but that is late and impossible. Christ warns, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).

Wisdom is that “resplendent (radiant), unfading virtue that we all need to possess. The book of Wisdom portrays Wisdom as a woman, caring and affectionate. She is attractive. Sometimes she seems hidden and can only be found by those who seek after her. To possess wisdom demands constancy and commitment. It is an ongoing engagement because to possess wisdom implies setting one’s heart on her. Think about a man who falls in love with a woman and how he applies every skill into making her love and cherish him back. Such a man must be consistent in whatever attracts the woman of his love. He must keep searching and must stretch himself to acquire his heartthrob. That’s how it is with wisdom. We must seek wisdom and not be like the foolish virgins.

Today, Christ invites us to be awake. What does that mean? It means that we need to have our lamps of good works constantly lit and burning. We need to be awake in charity. We need to be awake to the demands of the poor around us. Charity is the oil that ignites our faith as Saint James reminds us, “Faith without good deeds is dead” (James 2:17). The words of Saint Paul in the second reading are, “Indeed we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes. 4:15-16). That’s true because what matters is not whether someone is alive or dead. Rather, what matters is whether the oil is available at the coming of the “bridegroom”. As in the case of the parable of the ten virgins, everyone will be awakened. 

Let us not be like the foolish virgins possessing the unnecessary in place of the essential. Let us not acquire wealth that won’t help us on the last day. Let us invest our wealth wisely in charity and in good deeds. Let us be wise and ready for the wedding feast always.