Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Almost every priest I have ever asked would prefer to do ten funerals over one wedding! Indeed, weddings, as encumbered as they often are with details which actually have nothing to do with the “sacrament” [the part that priests actually have something to do with], can oftentimes be overwhelmed by in-laws and wedding planners, by mother-of-the bride and cultural expectations. The image of a supposed wedding party waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom being compared to the “kingdom of heaven” can present a challenge to the homilist on this Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary time.
As the liturgical year draws to a close our liturgies shift focus a bit and draw our attention to the end time when God will draw all things to himself through his Son, Jesus. We see this focus in the comforting words of Paul to the Thessalonians. In this earliest of writings from the New Testament Paul seeks to assure the community that those waiting for the imminent return of Jesus need not fear for the souls of those who have already died, for “God, through Jesus, [will] bring with him those who have fallen asleep” into the Kingdom. The Thessalonian community was so convinced that Jesus was returning soon that they stopped working, folded their arms and sat back in their easy chairs looking for the Lord. Not unlike the foolish virgins in today’s parable from Matthew, they had to be convinced to go back to work and their normal routines, all the while doing what was necessary to prepare for the Lord’s return whenever that might happen.
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins also directs our attention to the end time, to the coming of God’s kingdom, and it reminds us to be numbered among those who are adequately prepared for the bridegroom’s return. The foolish virgins were not evil. We cannot even conclude that they were sinful. They were simply foolish. They had waited a day or two and had become complacent. They allowed themselves to fall asleep, a particular danger for a group that wasn’t ready for the bridegroom’s return to begin with. What good were their lamps without oil? Did they really think that others would provide them with enough oil for the party? The five virgins were simply unprepared, and during their trip to the store, the bridegroom returned and started the party without them. How sad they must have been to be on the outside looking in.
As we are aware with all parables, we are not meant to get lost in the details. It’s not about oil or a capricious bridegroom, it’s all about being prepared, staying awake, for we “know neither the day nor the hour.” What makes our lamps shine brightly is the oil of goodness, a spiritual fuel that never runs out. Our oil should be the oil of mercy, justice, and compassion, the oil of kindness, patience, and forgiveness. We prepare ourselves for Jesus’ return by doing the good works he has called us to do, by possessing the integrity that should characterize all those who are followers of Jesus. We do not allow ourselves the luxury of falling asleep, or taking time off from living the Christian life. Indeed, our lives should be marked by a habit of goodness, which is the best preparation of those who long for the return of their loving Savior. We need never fear the coming of the Lord when he will ask us for an accounting of our lives if we have truly cultivated a habit of goodness, a habit of choosing to do what is good.