THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings:Wisdom 6:12-16Psalms 63:2-81 Thessalonians 4:13-17Matthew 25:1-13
Towards the end of this liturgical year, and every year, our minds are turned toward the end of time, when, as our second reading says: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” We think about the end times, not to be morbid or morose, but because Jesus tells us “to watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour” when God will call us home and ask for an accounting of our lives.
It is that last sentence of the gospel that Jesus wanted His listeners and us to focus on. Jesus does not want any of us to get lost in the details of the parable: why “wise” and “foolish” virgins? Why did the foolish ones bring no oil with their lamps? Why did the bridegroom come when the foolish ones were shopping; was it the deliberate intention of a loving God? Why were the wise virgins unwilling to share their oil with those who had no oil? And lastly, was Jesus/Bridegroom a little harsh for not opening the door? It would be easy to get lost in the details of the parable, but Jesus won’t allow it, as He leads His listeners and us to the most important thing said in today’s gospel.
As Catholic Christians we believe what we profess with our lips at every Sunday Mass, that Jesus will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.” Whether that is the cataclysmic event that is the end of time as we know it, or whether it is the more intimate tap on the shoulder to tell us it is time to return to our Heavenly Father, we “know we neither know the day nor the hour.” Our task is to be ready whenever that should happen, and that is why we are called to be like the wise virgins in today’s parable, children of the kingdom who are ready whenever God, the Bridegroom, comes.
You will remember that the early church had a problem with waiting around for Jesus to come back, and make all things whole. Indeed, our second reading is from one of the two oldest books in the New (Second) Testament, written at a time when believers were so positive about Christ’s return in glory, that they quit their jobs, and folded their arms, and sat back in order to wait for Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come, and some of their most respected Christian friends were dying, and more and more were asking “Where is Jesus, and when is He coming?”
St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written to address this problem, and to give the Thessalonians some hope about “those who have fallen asleep.” The Christians at the time Thessalonians was written were “not to grieve like the rest,” those “who have no hope.” No, the Thessalonians were not to worry themselves about those that were dying, “for if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The two letters to the Thessalonians were meant to give them encouragement and hope, and to pay no mind to how long it was taking Jesus to return, for they were meant to continue going about their business of doing good, and, by all means, they were meant to get back to work.
We, too, are to pay no mind to when Jesus will return; we are just meant to be ready. In today’s parable, the “virgins” who are wise are the one’s who realized that their lamps would need oil if they were to light their way through the darkness of night. And what is that oil? It is what keeps the flame of faith, implanted in our hearts at our baptism, burning brightly for everyone to see. It is the culmination of our efforts to be who God wants us to be, to do what God wants us to do. The oil we bring with us to light our way in the darkness, is replenished by all our efforts to do what is right and just. Which is why the oil of the wise virgins could not be shared with the foolish virgins – the oil is the result of our own doing, it is the good works we do in the name of Jesus. The flame in our hearts burns brighter for others to see when it is replenished by our acts of kindness and compassion, of justice and peace, of reconciliation and harmony, of truthfulness and love.
From time to time the darkness of sin may diminish the brightness of our lamps burning within us, but we are nevertheless called to be ready and “awake” when the Lord Jesus comes to invite us to the wedding feast of heaven. May we be “wise” to nourish our lights with the goodness which flows from the Lord who died and rose that we might have the eternal life He has promised. With the psalmist, let us “bless the Lord while we live; lifting up our hands, and calling on the name of the Lord. As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you” all the days of my life.