32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. Nov. 12, 2023

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. Nov. 12, 2023

Wisdom 6: 12-16; Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

 

Theme: Let Us Stay Awake for We Know Neither the Day nor the Hour

The Scripture readings today teach us what we Christians need to do while waiting for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first reading exhorts us to seek God who is personified as Wisdom. Saint Paul, in our second reading, teaches the Thessalonian believers how they should deal with the delayed return of Jesus. This young Christian community expected Jesus to return soon. Since this second coming of Jesus had been delayed, they became troubled especially because some of their members were dying without benefiting from the glory that would accompany the return of Christ. Paul encourages them that their beloved deceased are not lost; God, through Jesus, will raise them up. They will be the first to enter the divine presence. As for the delay of the return of Christ, (in the passage that immediately follows our passage (1 Thessalonians 5: 1-10), Paul invites them and us to wait with hope because we are the children of the light and the day but not of the night or of the darkness. The parable of the ten virgins that we heard in the Gospel teaches us to be wise while waiting for the second coming of Christ because it may be delayed. To be wise entails bringing “extra oil” which means to persevere in doing good works until the manifestation of the reign of God.  

In the Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven with the ten virgins who went to meet with the bridegroom. Each of them had a lamp. Five were wise because they thought about the probability that the bridegroom may delay, so they brought extra oil.  The other five were foolish because they did not bring extra oil that would have helped them if the bridegroom was delayed. Effectively, the bridegroom delayed in coming. He showed up at midnight, the unexpected hour. The wise virgins trimmed their lamps and went to the wedding feast accompanying the bridegroom. The foolish could not trim their lamps because they lacked extra oil. After they realized that it was not possible for their friends, five wise virgins, to share with them their extra oil, they were forced to go to a city a buy extra oil. On their way back, they found the hall door locked already and the bridegroom told them that he did not know them. So, they stayed outside and missed the wedding banquet. Jesus concludes the parable by inviting his listeners to stay awake. 

Our Gospel parable is full of images that need to be interpreted to understand better the message that the Church wants to teach us today. In the context of this parable, the phrase “kingdom of heaven” does not refer to heaven. Rather, it is the full manifestation of the reign of God and the dissolution of evil and suffering in the land. Jesus is the bridegroom who comes to bring this full manifestation of the reign of God. The Church is the bride, and the ten virgins are the bridesmaids who represent each of us who are the members of the Church. Note that many Biblical passages present Jesus as the groom and the Church as the bride (2 Corinthians 11: 2; Revelation 21: 2, 17; Matthew 9: 15; John 3: 29).

Note that all these ten young women are described as virgins. Virginity here symbolizes the general temperance and self-control that characterizes the Christian life. We are all Church members who are baptized and live out our baptismal lives. All ten virgins have lamps, which could symbolize “good works” based on Matthew 5: 16, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (NABRE). These lamps could also symbolize the light of the baptismal candle that we received on the day of our baptism and that we were told to keep it burning brightly until the day our Lord would return. In brief, this lamp is our personal relationship with God which needs to be maintained until the return of our Lord Jesus. These lamps of the ten virgins could not function without oil. Some Fathers of the Church identify the oil with charity, joy, and the Holy Spirit with all its fruits because the Christian faith loses its meaning without charity, love, joy, and the Holy Spirit. The oil represents our prayer life and the sacraments, mostly the Eucharist and confession which strengthen our personal relationship with God. As the lamp cannot function without oil, our personal relationship with God cannot stand without prayers and sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession.

The ten young women are all virgins, and all have lamps. However, they are distinguished by their ability to wait. The first five are called “wise’ because they prepare themselves to wait as long as it takes for the groom to arrive. The other five are identified as “foolish” because they did not plan anything in case the groom delays. The key point of this parable is here. The five wise and five foolish virgins do not represent the believers and non-believers. Rather, they represent Christians who persevere and those who do not persevere while waiting for the return of Christ. The perseverance is symbolized by previewing “extra oil” because waiting for the second coming of Jesus may take longer. “Extra oil” alludes to extra times of prayer and extra moments of attendance in the celebrations of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Mass, and confession. We are called to attend Mass regularly and use the sacraments. Prayer enables us to stay focused, perseverant, and always connected to our Lord. It is the spiritual food for our souls. It gives energy, protein, and all good spiritual nutrients that our souls need to stay healthier spiritually. So, a prayerful life nurtures and strengthens our one-on-one relationships with God.

 On arrival of the groom at an unexpected hour (midnight), the foolish virgins lacked the extra oil, so they could not trim their lamp. They begged their friends (the wise virgins) to give them some of their oil because their lamps were going out. The problem here is not about generosity but about the personal relationship with God which is not sharable with others. Everyone must have a one-on-one relationship with God to partake in the manifestation of the reign of God. We only can help each other to start our own relationships with God but we cannot share it because it is “personal”. No one will be saved using his/her parents or someone else’s personal relationship with God.  Christians who do not have a personal relationship with God and those who have but do not foster it with constant prayerful life and sacraments are like these foolish virgins. This Gospel urges us to ensure that we have a one-on-one relationship with our Lord and nurture it with constant prayerful life and sacraments, especially the Eucharist (Mass) and confession.

Jesus concludes the parable by exhorting us to stay awake, for we do not know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord will return. The foolish virgins realized that it was not possible to use someone else’s oil, so they went off to buy their own extra oil, but it was too late. When they returned, they found the door already locked. We need to seek God now and strengthen our relationships with him. We should not postpone it, because we do not know the day or the hour. Let us then sing with our Psalmist, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

 

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