THE WISDOM IN KNOWING WHEN THE LORD WILL COME
(Wisd 6:12-16, 1Thess 4:13-18, Matt 25:1-13)
As the Church’s year begins to draw to a close, the liturgy appropriately draws us to two basic spiritual realities: wisdom and the kingdom of God. Today’s readings hinge on the theme of “seeking or waiting for God with confident expectation”. The whole of our Christian life, our response to the love of Christ, our waiting with joyful hope for his coming, is summed up in today’s celebration in a single word: “Wisdom”.
Wisdom is rightfully given a place of honor in the first reading. In the middle of the first century BC, the author of the Book of Wisdom exhorted his Jewish audience in Alexandria to seek wisdom because the proper end of all learning is moral living. If education does not make us wise, we are no better than if we remain stupid. In this sense education is not opposed to faith, but in fact education is a necessary partner of faith. Let us contrast this simple idea with the current trend to view education as the channel to wealth and economic opportunity. Few students at our educational institution today would claim to be there in order to become wise. Nor do we consider wisdom the natural domain of goodness, as early philosophers did; now the normative connection to education is ruthless ambition.
You get degree in order to get ahead, not in order to be good. The end result is education without conscience, and religious belief locked in ignorance. The road to wisdom in the company of the learning and faith is travelled by very few. It is no wonder that we suffer the dearth of wise ones to serve as leaders and advisers, or leaders who are people of conviction and moral clarity. Still, wisdom waits for us at the gate, and those who seek her are guaranteed her companionship. We get the word education from the Latin word “educare”, meaning “to lead forth”, or “to raise up”. Hence, true education leads to wisdom.
The First Reading tells us about the great value of wisdom. St Thomas Aquinas described wisdom as the habit of looking at everything in the light of the last end. The wise person is the one who evaluates everything, every option, every decision and choice – in the light of what life is all about, the ultimate purpose of our existence. In this we see the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is having the facts. Wisdom is knowing what to do with them. The wise person will act and judge not only in regard to how something affects him or her now, but how something might affect him or her in the long run – especially in eternity. That is why we speak of these wise virgins (bridesmaids) in contrast to the foolish ones.
Today’s gospel parable is an allegory about the vigilance required in waiting for Christ. It is an illustrative story, a parable where two kinds of contrary behavior are presented in order that the listener comes to the wisdom of knowing which one he or she is. In the gospel, the identification deals with two groups of bridesmaids – the wise and the unwise – waiting for the bridegroom’s arrival. Here the issue of contrast is about seriousness and responsibility in being prepared.
The request of the unwise bridesmaids show just how foolish they are, because sharing the oil will risk everyone being in the dark when the Bridegroom comes. The advice of the wise bridesmaids is the most sensible recourse under the circumstances. What Matthew means here is that one community’s preparation cannot be transferred to another. Each group has to be prepared, be vigilant and conscious about their responsible waiting for the lord, no one can do it for them. Because of their unpreparedness they ran out of oil which means having no sanctifying grace at the moment of death. And the cold fact of the matter is that we can’t share grace with others; neither can others share it with us.
In concluding the parable, Jesus warns, “Stay awake, because you do not know the day or the hour”; it is not falling asleep that is reprehended. All ten bridesmaids, both the wise and the foolish, fell asleep. The difference between them is that the former have made sure to have sufficient oil to rekindle their lamps when they are roused, while the foolish have not taken this precaution. Their absence on the errand to buy it frustrates the whole purpose of their role when at last the bridegroom appeared.
The oil represents the kind of good deeds that Jesus commends-“justice, mercy and faith” (Matt 23:23) and which will be so graphically illustrated in the concluding parable of the Great Judgment (Matt 25:31-46). The five foolish bridesmaids represent the kind of believers depicted towards the close of the Sermon on the Mount: those who cry out, “Lord, Lord” but have no good works to accompany this confession of faith (Matt 7:21-27). The wise may “sleep” (in death) before the coming of the Lord but when he does come they will go out to meet him with the “lamps” of their good works shining (Matt 5:16).
To wisely use the gift of time well, St Paul writes to the Thessalonians not to grieve like those who have no hope. The Thessalonians were expecting the second coming of Christ to happen soon. And it seems they were looking forward to it. Obviously they were wrong, because it has not happened yet. However I think we might tie in that idea in how we might want to live. If we are truly wise we will try to live and use our time as if the end of the world – (and if not the end of the world, at least our own end) – is just around the corner. We are certainly going to be prepared by being in the state of grace, and perhaps we will be using our time in praying more, rather than sitting in front of a Television set, or an iPhone or for gossip.
Lord Jesus, make me vigilant and attentive to your voice that I may heed your call at all times. May I find joy in your presence and delight in doing your will. Amen.
Peace be with you.
Fr Dumlesi Tor