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Features \ Asia - Liturgical Reflections

XXXII Sunday - Nov 12, 2017

Five foolish women of the Gospel - RV

Five foolish women of the Gospel - RV

06/11/2017 11:52

Wisdom 6:12-16;    I Thes 4:13-18;    Mt 25:1-13 

Homily starter anecdote: “Be prepared” and “Don’t run out of gas.”: One thing that all Scouts, young and old, never forget is the Boy Scout Motto: "Be prepared." If you’ve ever set up a tent and didn’t tie your lines securely, you know what happens when the wind and rain hits! A tent collapse in the middle of the night is a rude awakening! Or, if you get a brand-new pair of hiking boots and don’t properly break them in, then go on a ten-mile hike, it’s pretty painful! You might forget bug-spray during mosquito season. Or if you bring a flashlight on a campout, but not extra batteries; that can make it somewhat challenging finding the latrine in the middle of the night! We sometimes learn the hard way to anticipate our needs. We need to plan ahead, before it’s too late. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark! Through the parable of the ten virgins, Jesus warns us to be ever prepared for the end of our lives.  How many of you have ever run out of gas? In most audiences, this would be nearly everyone. I cannot verify these statistics, so I caution you that they may be flawed. It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service. One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional, progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”(stjohngrandbay.org)

Introduction: This Sunday’s readings bring the usual warnings about preparation for the end of our own world, the end of our own time and our passage to another world.  They tell us that a searching, watching and evolving heart is essential for a lively, dynamic Faith in God.  They ask us whether we are ready for these events and how we are preparing for them.   

 Scripture lessons Summarized: Because Jesus' parable in today’s Gospel has five well-prepared, wise women, the first reading chosen for today is one which personifies wisdom as a woman. The author advises Jews in Alexandria not to envy the wisdom of the pagan philosophers, because they themselves have true wisdom in their Sacred Scripture, a wisdom which regulates not only this life but the next also.  Hence, they must live their lives in strict conformity with the Divine wisdom given them so generously by God.  In the second reading, Paul offers Christian wisdom, assuring those Christians who expected Jesus’ second coming in their life time that the death and Resurrection of Jesus is powerful enough to save even those who die before Jesus’ second coming. But they need to be alert, well-prepared and vigilant. In the Gospel parable of the ten virgins, the foolish virgins represent the “Chosen People of God” who were waiting for the Messiah, but were shut out from the messianic banquet because they were unprepared.  The parable teaches us that, like the five wise virgins, we should attend to duties of the present moment, preparing now, rather than waiting until it is too late. 

The first reading explained (Wisdom 6:12-16): Jesus' parable in today’s Gospel shows us five well-prepared, wise women, and the first reading chosen for today offers us Wisdom, personified as a woman.  Writing in Greek to the dispersed Jews living in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, in Egypt, around 100 BC, the author wants his fellow Jews to seek wisdom and learn from it.  Wisdom is a Divine gift – but a gift that will not elude the one who seeks it sincerely.  What the author suggests is that the faithful adherence of the Alexandrian Jews to their ancestral religion in their somewhat hostile environment is seeking after Divine wisdom.  They need not envy the wisdom of the pagan philosophers, because they themselves have true wisdom in their Sacred Scripture, a wisdom which regulates not only this life but the next also.  They must live their lives in strict conformity with the Divine wisdom given them so generously by God.  Those who are watchful enough to find and welcome wisdom will also find that they will be prepared for the rest of the journey – from this life to the next.  The message given by the first reading is clear: God willingly reveals Himself, but mysteriously in His own way, according to His own timetable.  God can be found, but only by those who never give up the search, yet patiently await His initiative. “The deepest wisdom and fullest readiness is to live chastely, honestly, nonviolently (Mt 5). and to meet our neighbors’ basic needs (Mt 25).” (Fr. Dennis Ham)

The second reading explained (I Thes 4:13-18): First Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul's letters.  When he wrote it, contemporary Christians, including Paul himself, expected Jesus to come very soon --within their lifetime -- to rebuild the Kingdom and to establish his glorious reign.  So they needed to be vigilant in order not to miss his return.  Some quit their jobs in the belief that the Kingdom was at hand.  But then the years passed and there seemed to be no signs of the Second Coming.  Paul writes this earliest Christian letter to respond to the community's fears and questions about those who die before the Parousia: will the few Christians who die in this short period somehow miss out on the benefits of Jesus' return?  Paul says they will not, because what God has wrought in the death and Resurrection of Jesus is powerful enough to save even those who have already "fallen asleep."  Paul helps them to realize that what they need to do is believe in what the Lord has done for us. He doesn’t want them to fret. He explains, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thes, 4:13). Instead, the Thessalonians should prepare themselves for the Kingdom.  The central idea is clear: only the alert and the vigilant can experience God coming in their lives.  Those who are asleep to the present never seem to notice God's presence. 

Gospel Exegesis: The Context: Today’s Gospel passage is situated in the context of Matthew's discourse in chapters 25 and 26 on the end times and the second coming of Christ.  After speaking of the destruction of the temple (Mt 24:1-3) and the end of the age (Mt 24:4-51), the Evangelist takes up the parable of the wise and the foolish bridesmaids, which Jesus used to illustrate teachings about the coming of the Kingdom.  This parable, along with three others in chapter 25 and 26, finds pointed application for the waiting faithful in the early Church as they come to terms with an unexpected delay in the Parousia (or the second coming of Christ), which most expected in their lifetime. 

The parable tells a story which could have happened at any time in a Palestinian village and which could still happen today.  Since a wedding was a great occasion, the whole village lined up at the sides of the road to wish God’s blessings on the bride being taken in procession by her groom to her new home.  The invited ones would join the procession, which started from the bride’s house and moved to the groom’s house, to take part in the week-long celebration of the marriage. Since the bridegroom might come to the bride’s house unexpectedly, the bridal party had to be ready at any time, with accompanying virgins (bridesmaids in our day), carrying lighted torches and reserve oil in jars.  Five of these virgins, who, having forgotten to bring an extra jar of oil had to run to the dealers to buy some, and so missed the arrival of the groom’s party, lost their chance to take part in the celebration.  They lost not only the opportunity of witnessing the marriage ceremony, but also of participating in the week-long celebration that followed.   

The meaning of the parable: This parable has both a local and a universal meaning.  The local meaning is that the foolish virgins represent the “Chosen People of God” who were waiting for the Messiah, but were shut out from the messianic banquet because they were unprepared. “The division between the wise and the foolish virgins becomes the division between those in Matthew’s church who keep the commandments of Christ, the new lawgiver of the church, and those who hear his words but fail to do what he commands.” (Fr. Reginald Fuller).  The universal meaning is that the five foolish virgins represent those who fail to prepare for the end of their lives.  What matters is not the occasional or the last-minute burst of spiritual fervor but habitual attention to responsibilities before God.  At the final judgment, there will be no depending upon the resources of others, no begging or borrowing of grace.  The parable implies that we should attend to duties of the present moment, preparing now rather than waiting until it is too late. 

The allegorical elements in the parable: The virgins represent the Church that is waiting for Christ’s Second Coming.  The Bridegroom is Christ.  The wedding feast is the great and joyous occasion in which Christ comes for his Church (Rv 19:9).  The delay of the Bridegroom corresponds to the delay of the Second Coming.  The Bridegroom's arrival in the dark of night is the Second Coming itself.  The closing of the door is the final judgment.

Have enough oil, that is, have a good relationship with God: Literally, our text answers the question, "What shall we do while we wait?"  The answer is:  "Make sure you have enough oil for your lamps."  The Scripture scholars of the past and the present have reflected on what this oil symbolizes, and they have arrived at different but related views.  (i) Perhaps, the best explanation is that the oil stands for our personal relationship with God who is the Source and Power behind our good deeds or "fruit-bearing" (Matthew 3:8, 10; 7:16, 17, 18, 19, 20; 12:33; 13:8, 23, 26; 21:19, 34, 41, 43).  It is not something that one can attain overnight or borrow from someone else as the foolish virgins attempted to do.  This “state of grace” is something we must receive from God personally and directly. (ii) In Scripture, oil is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  It is when we submit our work, our intentions, our purpose to the Holy Spirit that He fills our deeds with power and effectiveness. (iii) Oil stands for character and Christian values which we cannot borrow – or buy, the foolish virgins’ choice.   (iv) Oil stands for “spiritual capital” (our merits) – all that we build up by good works:  concern for the needy and acts of justice.  (v) Perhaps, oil refers to real Christian Faith.  (vi) Oil is the spirit of reconciliation with the others and a willingness to share our lives and its blessings with others.  (vii) Oil may also be a generic reference to faithful and obedient discipleship as defined by the whole Gospel.   

Warnings given by the parable: 1) The parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute:   a) a good relationship with God, b) good character, c) merits from good deeds of sharing and forgiving love and humble service done to others. 2) The parable also warns us of certain elements in Christian life that cannot be borrowed: a) relationship with God, b) ideal character, c) Faith.  

Life messages: 1) We need to be wise enough to remain ever prepared:  Wise Christians live each day in the light of Jesus' vision.  Such people find Him in the most ordinary experiences of daily living -- in the people they meet, the events that take place, and the situations in which they find themselves.  They carefully make their daily choices for God. They are ready to put the commandment of love into practice by kindness and forgiveness.  There is absolutely no better way to prepare for the final call than to learn to spend each day in the company of Jesus, remembering his assurance, "I am with you always." The following short prayer should be always on their lips: "Lord, grant that all my thoughts, intentions, actions and responses may be directed solely to Your love and service this day."  "Help me, Lord, to seek, to find, and to respond to You in every single experience this day."  When we eventually hear the final call, "Get up! The Master is coming!"  we will not be worried, but   happy and more than ready to meet Him, as well as old friends and family, in Heaven.  God has made this promise to us: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dn 12:3). 

2) Let us be sure that our Lamps are ready for the end of our lives: Spiritual readiness, preparation and growth do not just happen.  They come as a result of intentional habits built into one’s life.  We cannot depend on a Sunday morning service to provide all our spiritual needs.  We cannot depend on Christian fellowship to provide us with spiritual development. These things come through routine, mundane attention to ordinary spiritual disciplines — making sure we have enough oil: spiritual fuel.  They come when we habitually take time for prayer and being alone with God. They come through reading God’s Word; living a sacramental life; performing acts of service to others; being morally faithful; obeying God with love, and spending time with other Christians for mutual prayer, study and encouragement.  These are the things which, along with the normal difficulties of life, enable a person to grow in Christ and to be prepared for Christ’s coming. Without these things we will not be prepared. The preparation cannot be hit-or-miss, nor can it be postponed.  We dare not procrastinate, lest death come unexpectedly and ruin us.  We need to develop these things which encourage our spiritual growth into holy habits in our lives which take precedence over other interests and claims on our time and attention. As these habits become entrenched, they cease to be a struggle for us and begin to be a source of strength and blessing.  They make our lives powerful against the onslaught of the world.  

3) What is the oil that we lack?  Oil in Scripture is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we try to spring into action without first submitting our work to the Holy Spirit.  Or perhaps we lack the oil of kindness and compassion.  There’s no way we can be ready to meet Jesus without the essential oils of compassion and mercy.  Perhaps we lack   the oil of patience and sympathy.  Without such oil, we’re ill-equipped to deal with someone who comes to us in need of long-term love and guidance.  Perhaps we’re short of the oil of education and instruction, or we’re not adequately trained and lack proper skills to be of service in areas where help is needed.  Perhaps God is calling us to take our expertise and skills to another level in order that we may more adequately meet Jesus in the people God allows to enter our lives.( Fr. Antony Kadavil)

06/11/2017 11:52