Year A, November 12, 2023
1st Wis. 6:13-16, Ps. 63, 2nd 1Thes. 4:13-18 Gospel Mt. 25:1-13.
It's November, and we are coming to the end of the liturgical year with the Solemn Feast of Christ, the King of the Universe, which occurs this year two weeks from now on November 26. The Sunday gospels in these weeks are concerned with the end of all time in the glorious coming of the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ the King of Kings. In today's gospel parable or allegory, Jesus depicts himself as the Bridegroom coming from the home of his bride to take her to his own home to celebrate for all to see his marriage to his Bride. In the the parable, however, the Bride who would, of course, represent the Church, all believers, is not mentioned. Rather, in this case the 10 virgins who carry their lamps in the darkness represent the early Church and all of us through the course of the Church's history who also intend, who hope at least, in our earthly lives to process with Christ on our pilgrim way to the marriage feast of the Lamb in the kingdom of heaven.
The allegory speaks of our Bridegroom being “long delayed” in his coming, just as Matthew's Church and the Church of today experience the delay to the point of losing enthusiam for the 2nd coming of Jesus, even though we pray at every mass that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Do we? Are we actually waiting in hope for this? The death of the first generations of Christians is seen in the parable in the fact that all of them—both the foolish and the wise virgins without exception fall asleep. The bible often refers to death as “sleep.” Although the translation we heard says blandly and rather loosely that the virgins “got up” at the cry “Behold, the Bridgroom!”, the original Greek says that the virgins “were raised up” at the cry--using the same verb about the resurrection of Christ that was used in Matthew's Gospel just a few chapters back at the third prediction of the Passion and Resurrection. Here is the ultimate crisis of human existence—the general resurrection and the grand sorting out of those who lived foolish lives from those who lived wisely. The obvious question at this point is: what does it mean that some are foolish and some are wise? More to the point: are we, am I among the foolish or among the wise? Even more to the point: nevermind about the final resurrection of all the dead at the end of time nor the particular judgement when each of us dies—what about right now! Right now are we, am I living the life of a fool or that of a wise person? Much earlier in Matthew's gospel there is a clear answer to this question.
If we now move from chapter 25 to chapters 5,6, and 7, the Sermon on the Mount, where Matthew has sublimely compiled much of the teaching of Jesus on the moral and spiritual life of his disciples, Jesus concludes the sermon in this way: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock... And everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand...” All ten virgins were called to be torch bearers for the Bridegroom Jesus—as are all of us here. Remember that Jesus tells us in the sermon, “You all are the light of the world!” The foolish ones let their lamps, their torches sputter out by neglecting to have enough oil handy. The oil is in the deeds, the action taken in response to the words: the acts of righteousness, of holiness and of justice. It is an oil that flows abundantly to those who paradoxically, selflessly use their oil of sanctification that they received in Baptism in response to the graced words of Jesus on how to live a life of Christian wisdom.
This wisdom is not in intellectual knowledge, but in the knowledge found in generous, loving, forgiving, committed hearts, in hands that reach out to the poor, in backs that help carry another's burdens, in legs that go extra miles to serve and to reconcile, in faces of brothers and sisters lifted up together in prayer to their heavenly Father. The fool hears the words of Jesus, but does not act on them. The fool's oil burns up, dries up and is not replenished by the oil of divine gladness that flows freely to those who respond to the words and the supply of the oil of grace that is contained in those words through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Behold, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him!
He comes now to meet us in this Eucharist substantially as he has already encountered us verbally in the Liturgy of the Word. He knows we need to wake up, to be raised up from the sleep of death that is sin. He comes now not only to have us accompany him to his marriage banquet, but to actually be our sacred banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his Passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and the pledge of future glory is given to us. Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.