Scripture Readings: Book of Wisdom 6:12-16; First Thessalonians 4:13-18; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 25:1-13
God’s wisdom is the focus of this Sunday’s Mass readings. Everyone wants to be wise, to possess knowledge, good judgment, common sense and insight. These are traits and qualities we normally associate with the word “wisdom.” Its acquisition, of course, is not as easy as it may seem. Sometimes people may think they are wise when in reality they are not. An ancient Latin saying of Cicero, a second century orator, comes to mind here: “To be rather than seem.” In Latin it’s just three words: “Esse quam videri.” Possessing wisdom rather than imagining one to be wise should always be the goal!
The first reading for Mass this Sunday, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, written about one hundred years before the birth of Christ, expounds the nature of wisdom, her origin and the means to obtaining her in this life. The text for today is intended to inspire in the reader a true love for wisdom.
The anonymous author of the Book of Wisdom speaks of wisdom in feminine terms, describing her “appearance” as “resplendent and unfading,” to be found by those who seek her. And who are they? Those who keep vigil, who watch for wisdom at dawn and who are free from care. These are lofty thoughts to be sure, but are not intended as something unattainable. Wisdom does not manifest herself to just anyone, though, but to those who desire from the heart to possess her. If they do, they will find wisdom, Scripture says.
Wisdom’s readiness to manifest and to communicate herself to those who are vigilant prefigures the attitude of readiness Jesus describes in the Gospel this Sunday. All who are in search of guidance and help from God will find it, Jesus teaches us, using the image of five wise bridesmaids and five who are foolish.
Regarding the coming of the Lord, Jesus indicates in the Gospels that it will be sudden, unforeseeable and even unknown. The posture to adopt, therefore, is constant fidelity to God and being vigilant. Be awake for the Lord’s coming, in other words, because the coming of the Lord is the time of the possibility of reward, the hope of full participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. So desirable is this reward that no one should be so negligent as to miss the opportunity. For those who do, there is the prospect of punishment and exclusion, which no one should want.
In the Gospel parable of the bridesmaids this Sunday, the groom is described as being delayed, and only those who were prepared to meet him are granted entrance into the wedding. The foolish were busy elsewhere and completely missed out on the golden opportunity. The dramatic tale is not told in order to frighten anyone, but in order to emphasize the fact you can only live your own life, so let your life be totally informed by the teaching and grace of the Lord who desires that all be saved.
It is not enough to be prepared at the very last moment, though, when life is coming to an end. Rather, the follower of Jesus is to be already prepared, from many years or decades of hearing God’s voice, adhering to the Word of God and putting it into action. The fidelity of the five wise bridesmaids in the parable is symbolized by their having sufficient oil. In the darkness oil will provide light for their lamps or torches, making it possible for them to accompany the bridegroom. The wise are in possession of “what it takes,” but the foolish are unfaithful and unprepared.
The overriding point of the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is not so much about doing good works, possessing fervor or even faith, as important as all of these are. Instead, the idea of ongoing, permanent fidelity to God and readiness is being emphasized, in order to be truly prepared for the Bridegroom who will surely arrive, at the Final Coming of the Lord, but also when we meet the Lord at death.
The cry that the bridesmaids hear at midnight, “The groom is here! Come out and greet him!” described in the Gospel parable, implies that the time of preparation and faithful watching will come to an end. The five unprepared bridesmaids fail in their personal responsibility, and no one can really help them, since the decisive moment has already arrived.
The importance and seriousness of personal fidelity in the Christian life and the innate dignity of every person cannot be overemphasized. We are all called in Jesus Christ to belong to God, called to respond by a life of sincere obedience to the Lord. “Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation,” Saint Paul reminds the Church in Corinth (see 2 Cor 6.2). We all need that little bit of oil, the all-important factor, the symbol of fidelity, in order to adhere to Christ.
The cry the foolish bridesmaids hear, “I do not know you,” may sound frightening, but it expresses how one ought to live in order to be welcomed into the Wedding Feast.
The desire, hope and the assurance that we shall be with Christ for ever should be an inspiration for us in our lives. It should shape our attitudes toward the present and the future, with less emphasis on the past, but of getting on board now and into the unknown, not with dread, but in the trust that God who has brought us this far will be with us as life goes on. Our passing from death to eternal life should not be dreaded, but our heart’s desire and hope.
May we strive for the great gift of wisdom, not to impress others, but in order to offer then something more precious than silver and gold, the pearl of great price awaiting those who truly seek the Lord.