32nd Sunday In Ordinary Time
Cycle A | 12 November 2017
Wis. 6: 12-16
I Thes. 4: 13-17
Mt. 25: 1-13
INTRODUCTION: Our readings for this Sunday are very apocalyptic; i.e. They have to do with the end of time or the second coming of Jesus Christ or the consummation of all things at this time of the Liturgical Year when the Calendar Year comes to an end. So, the Church asks us to reflect on these things.
(1) Our second reading is from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians which is the earliest Christian text we have, written by Paul around 50 AD – about 20 years from Christ’s Resurrection. It gives us a wonderful snapshot of what life was like in this very primitive Christian community. Paul writes to them about the event that changed his life. Paul saw the Risen Jesus and it turned everything in his life upside down inside out. It revolutionized him in his way of thinking about life and everything in the light of the Resurrection. He is talking about a central point of Christian Faith: In Jesus Christ risen from the dead, we hope to rise from the dead.
In Jesus Christ raised to a new pitch of existence in the very realm of the Father, we who have been baptized in him hope for a similar consummation. In the light of that, everything changes; the things of this world fall into relative insignificance. My whole life is rearranged in the light of this great truth: in Christ, you will rise. Paul uses lots of apocalyptic language to refer to this consummation: “… the Lord himself will come down from heaven at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel’s voice and God’s trumpet; and those who have died in Christ will rise first.
Then we, the living, the survivors, will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This is the theology of rapture! Do not understand this literally as if we meet the Lord in mid-air at 35,000 ft. but this only refers to the transformation of our lives into a higher existence. Paul was so over-whelmed at the experience of seeing Jesus alive that he thought this consummation would happen very soon within his lifetime. Of course, it did not happen even 2000 years after Paul. We are still waiting “with the same joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When is he coming? We don’t know 10 years or 5000 years but the hope remains the same, even today as the center of our Faith.
(2) Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew, written some 30 years after I Thessalonians. Shaped by Paul’s Letters, like us, the Christians of Mt’s time were also waiting for Christ and were wondering how should they wait. They remembered a Parable of Jesus at the end of his life before his Passion about the ten Virgins or Bridesmaids with their torches who went to meet the Bridegroom.
The Parable depicts the Jewish wedding practices and customs during Jesus’ time. Unlike weddings today, the focus is on the Groom, not on the Bride. At night, the Groom in his sleeping gown leaves his parents’ home and makes a journey to the Bride’s place whom he takes to make a journey back to the Groom’s house where the wedding party takes place. In the meantime, the guests, and especially the Bridesmaids, would accompany the Groom in the journey to and fro. In the first century, unlike these days of electricity, the night then was pitch dark. That is why the guests, and especially the Bridesmaids, would have torches with plenty of oils to negotiate the night. This is the setting of the Parable.
(3) Five of the Bridesmaids were wise, i.e. well prepared with stock of oil; the other five were foolish, not well prepared with not enough stock of oil. The Bridegroom is delayed! Why? We don’t know just as we don’t know why the Bridegroom Jesus is delayed in his coming. He tarries but after a long wait, the Bridesmaids fall asleep and then suddenly the Bridegroom is there. The Bridesmaids have to be ready quickly with their torches to meet the Bridegroom. Those who have plenty of oil light their lamps quickly and go but those who have no oil enough are not prepared and can’t light their lamps.
Who gets into the party? Those who through a long wait are nevertheless well prepared and well stocked. Who do not get in? Those who are foolish and not well prepared and not well stocked. How do we read this? Like those Bridesmaids, all of us Christians wait for Christ the Bridegroom in between the end-times. We know that Christ is coming to consummate the wedding of God with his people but we don’t know when. So, we wait!
How do we wait? Some wisely; others foolishly! What does the oil stand for? It stands for the Divine Life that was given to us in baptism which we have to keep alive and burning as we wait. Who are the wise waiters? Concretely, those who pray, frequent the sacraments Eucharist and Confession, Reconciliation; those who love or sincerely seek the good of the others and do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; those who study and sincerely seek the understanding of their Faith. Who are the foolish waiters? Those who allow this life to ebb and die. Concretely, those who do not practice what the wise waiters do!
CONCLUSION: Can the Divine Life go out? Yea, it can! That’s the dreadful truth! Will we be ready when he comes? We hope! What about the request of the foolish to give them some of the oil of the wise and their answer was “no”! Is that not being unkind? No! If you spend your whole life not being ready unlike the wise did, you can’t reasonably expect the wise at the end of your life to give you what they have been striving all their life. How do we wait? Foolishly or wisely? That’s the whole point of this Parable!
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches