Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 WIS 6:12-16
Responsorial Psalm PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
- (2b) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Reading 21 THES 4:13-18
Alleluia MT 24:42A, 44
Stay awake and be ready!
For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Gospel MT 25:1-13
Homily— November 11 & 12, 2017
The parable of the five foolish and five wise virgins waiting for the wedding party is a very odd story. We’re now reading the final chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus is preparing people for the end times. So, he tells the story about the wise and foolish maidens.
The realistic cultural image behind this story would have the ten virgins in question waiting at the bride’s house, safely inside when they fell asleep and their lamps went out. They would have been planning to participate in the wedding procession that carried the flame from the bride’s family hearth to the home she was going to share with her new husband. That image throws a different light on the parable.
This parable is about being prepared. Father Romanus Cessario, O.P. states it this way “The principal point of the parable illustrates the kind of preparedness Jesus expects of his disciples, but the wise or prudent maidens also represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterize a complete Christian life. The burning oil lamps that they carry into the wedding feast symbolically portray Christian wisdom, the crown of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit and of the infused moral virtues. This Christian wisdom empowers all those who embrace prudence and the other moral virtues to fulfill the requirements of an integral and holy life.”
We do indeed live in a time that calls to us “be prepared” and “be alert” to what is happening around you. When you leave home to go to a game or a concert or shopping or even church are you aware of the people in your vicinity. When you are driving a car how wide awake are you? If you try to multitask when you drive you are in danger of having an accident. If you are having a deep phone conversation while driving your attention is definitely not on driving and being aware of what is happening ahead of you or behind you. When you get drowsy driving; find a place to pull over before you hurt yourself or someone else.
At a time when all of us least expect it, our death will come. Today’s Gospel is a friendly reminder from Jesus that we still have time to prepare ourselves for the most important event we will ever face.
The parables that come toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel are all calling us to look at our heart. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins asks us about our commitment for the long haul. Are we like the five who went to the house with just enough oil to check out what was happening? They were there for the entertainment, like people who knew about the bride and groom but who didn’t have a significant attachment to them or the celebration. In contrast, the wise young women had been saving up for this occasion. They went early and planned to stay late. The wise ones had been practicing for this party. Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm. If the groom was late, that didn’t matter; they knew he would come.
In his discussion of the end times, Matthew emphasizes a spirit of readiness. His generation was the first to accept that Jesus’ return was delayed. Christians took Jesus’ delay as a motivation for virtue. Jesus was coming again, but as he warned, no one knew the day or the hour. Christians should live, therefore, like people who are always ready for the final moment.
The wise virgins symbolize such Christians. Taking extra oil was costly and inconvenient, but it meant that they were ready for the feast when the bridegroom came. By contrast, the other virgins were foolish in two ways. They failed to bring extra oil, and they failed to take advantage of the bridegroom’s delay to acquire more.
These women illustrate a mystery that occupies Matthew throughout his Gospel. Although Jesus called everyone, not all responded. Of those who responded, even fewer persisted in the faith.This mystery also lies behind the parables of the sower and the wedding feast. In today’s Gospel passage, the oil symbolizes this persistence.The sacrifices and inconveniences of acquiring and carrying extra oil were trivial compared to the joys of the feast to come.
The oil thus symbolized our readiness for God’s grace. The daily tasks necessary to prepare ourselves—prayer, acts of forgiveness and generosity, trust in providence—are comparable to the minor sacrifices and inconveniences of the wise virgins. The more prepared we are, however, the readier we will be to hold the lamp up to light Christ’s face when he comes again.
It is God’s party that we’re invited to enjoy—with absolutely everyone who cares enough to participate. The only requirement for admission is to hear the invitation and act like we want to be a part of it. If we don’t act like we want to be in God’s heavenly celebration of life while we are alive then nothing will change when we die. Are you ready today?