- TRUE WISDOM
Wis 6:12-16; 1Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13
As we are approaching the end of the liturgical calendar, the readings selected for our meditation these last Sunday of the year focus on the end- or last things. They focus on topics like death, judgment, heaven and hell. Last 2nd November we prayed especially for our loved ones who have died. Through the All Souls’ Day, we recalled that we will all die one day, and Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. In today’s readings, we are called to be wise by being ready to meet the Lord, whenever he calls us.
1. TRUE WISDOM
The readings of this Sunday teach us the need to be wise in the things of God. We are to prepare for the Lord’s coming like people who are wise, and ever ready for the Lord’s unannounced arrival.
The first reading for our meditation today comes from the Book of Wisdom, (Wis 6:12-16). The reading speaks specifically about ‘wisdom’. The Israelites, like most of the ancient peoples valued “wisdom” more than wealth and physical strength. They held in great esteem the men who know the secrets of nature, could solve riddles, speak in proverbs, compose songs and poems, ponder on the world and over the problems of human life. The most famous of all wise men was Solomon whose wisdom Scripture describes as (1Kings 5:9-14) “greater than all the wisdom of the orientals and the whole land of Egypt”. When the Bible speaks of “Wisdom” it means especially “the art of good life”. Even if a person has no specific preparation or specialized training, the one who is prudent, who knows how to control his/her instincts, who acts with caution, who is loyal in words and actions, who is humble and modest, is considered a wise person. God is the source of this type of wisdom.
The Hebrews used to imagine wisdom as a beautiful girl who plays and jokes in the presence of God. In the first reading of today, we find a description of this young girl. Wisdom is addressed as if the writer was talking of a person. The author paints her in wonderful words, as if he had fallen in love with her: “she is bright and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her.” Then the author goes on to tell us what wisdom does. From early morning, wisdom, in the form of this beautiful girl, goes round searching for wise men to make them happy with her beauty. She does not wait to be approached; she goes out to those worthy of her. The man who marries her will be blessed and free from anxiety. Indeed, whoever will allow himself to be found worthy of the wisdom of God, whoever accepts this wisdom as his/her guide, will experience an immense peace!
Our Second reading, taken from the first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, (Thes 4:13-18), tells us that the early Christian communities were convinced that Jesus would very soon make his return to assemble his disciples and introduce them into the kingdom of the Father. Even St. Paul shared this belief.
However, these ideas about the imminent end of the world had begun to cause serious problems among the Thessalonians to whom today’s reading is specifically addressed. First, some of them stopped working because they said, there was very little time left to live and the stock of food they had piled up in their homes was enough to last them until the end of the world. Secondly, they were worried about the fate of their dead relatives. If those still alive will go and meet the Lord when he comes in glory, what will happen to those relatives who had died already? Will they be lost forever?
In today’s second reading, St. Paul replies to this second problem. First, he says that in the face of death pagans and Christians hold completely different positions: pagans are those who have no hope and so despair because everything for them will end with death. Christians, on the other hand, believe in eternal life; they know that the life of God received in baptism cannot be interrupted by the death of the body, and so they are calm. Christians can weep at the death of a dear one, but they never grieve like the pagans do. Secondly, Paul recalls the resurrection of Christ. Jesus has conquered death; he has entered the life of God and will take with him all who are already dead and those who will be found still living when the Lord returns. On the basis of this truth, Christians are to exhort one another with this divine wisdom.
The Gospel of today (Matt 25:1-13) narrates the parable of the wise and of the foolish Bridesmaids or virgins. In it, our Lord describes an incident that happened or could happen at a wedding festival in order to bring home to his listeners the need for being ever vigilant and ready in his service if they wish to avoid the tragedy of being excluded from the heavenly and eternal marriage feasts on the last day. The parable of the Ten Virgins is not just about a wedding. It is about life. It is about where you and I will spend eternity. It is more than a story. It is a warning. Those who are wise will listen carefully and make whatever changes are necessary to be sure that they are ready whenever the Bridegroom comes.
The Lord Jesus, the great Bridegroom may be delayed, but he is coming. It may be today. It may be next week. He may come in the clouds or he may come for us at the end of our life. We do not know when he will come. But wisdom teaches us that whenever it happens, we should be found with our lamps burning bright like those of the wise virgins. That is true wisdom.
2. FAITH IS NOT TRANSFERABLE
In the parable, we have the five sensible virgins refusing to assist the others five in their need. Jesus does not condemn them. Instead, he compliments them and affirms their action. A question arises as to why Jesus seems to favour their action. Is it not the same Jesus who teaches that if someone asks for your coat, you should give him/her your shirt also? Furthermore, in the later verses of this same Gospel, (Mtt 25:35ff.), he exhorts his followers to “Give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, etc.” Did the Lord not invite or even command us to a life of charity and generosity, even to the point of giving not just out of our surplus, but also out of our poverty, as did the exemplary poor widow in the temple?
The answer lies in the simple fact that faith, like the oil meant for the lamps of the virgins, is non-transferable. In other words, we cannot get to Heaven by someone else’s preparation. We cannot get to Heaven through, the faith of our parents or grandparents, through our nationality, through the faith of your friends, etc. Faith must be personal and individual. These virgins had to have their own oil. They could not borrow it from another. Borrowing or lending the oil would have meant that they would have all run out of oil before arriving at the Grooms home. In the same way, you and I must have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ. It is one thing to believe in him, it is another to trust him. One can believe that Jesus is God, that he is the Saviour. It is another thing to live the life of a believer.
For instance, suppose someone were to claim to be law-abiding, would it suffice the he/she simply knows all the laws? Would one be considered law-abiding because he/she agreed with all the laws or because he/she believed strongly in the system and need for law? No! One can be considered law-abiding only if he/she OBEYS THE LAW. It is the same thing with faith. It is not enough to know about faith, love people of faith, agree that faith is wonderful. We are saved when we exercise faith actually, really, practically, and personally.
3. THE NOT PREPARED VIRGINS WERE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER
We are told in the parable that the unprepared women secured more oil and rushed to the back to where the wedding reception was taking place, but the door was already locked. They knocked and pleaded for admission. It is interesting that they are not told, “You’re too late.” They are simply told, “I don’t know you.”
These words remind us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23: “It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!”
These people had resumes (CV’s) that anyone would envy. They prophesied, cast our demons and performed miracles. Still, the Lord said to them: “I have never known you.” Why this? It is simply because these people were fans of Jesus, not real followers. Again, in the beginning of 1 Corinthians (1Cor 13:1-3), St. Paul gives us a clearer emphasis on this theme: “if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains — if I am without love, I am nothing. Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned — if I am without love, it will do me NO GOOD WHATEVER.”.
It is good that we take proper note of all the things these people did: they prophesied, understood deep truth, and had mountain-moving faith. Yet, because they did not love; they “gained nothing”. In other words, they were Virgins without oil. Therefore, they cannot gain entry into the kingdom of God.
4. FAITH AND GOOD WORKS
Jesus uses this parable to teach about the requirements for entering into the Kingdom of God. We need oil in our lamps to be able to enter the Kingdom of God. We need a lot of that oil. The barest minimum will not do. The lamp is the life of a Christian. The oil is good works. We need to do good works before we can enter the kingdom of God. The more good works we do, the greater our chances of making it into the Kingdom of God. But we must point out, for the avoidance of doubt and confusion, that we do not do those good works all by ourselves, on our own steam, so to say. Rather, it is the grace of God that enables us, empowers us to do any good that we shall ever do. That is why Jesus says that we can do nothing without him (Cf. Jn 15:5). We can do nothing good without our dependence on his grace. Yet we can do a lot of evil, a lot of damage, without Jesus. We do not need Jesus in order to do evil, because we have a strong natural inclination to that.
There is an age-old controversy as to whether we can be saved by faith alone, without good works. The Apostle James settled that controversy long ago, once and for all. He said, “faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead” (James 2:17). Of course, works by themselves without faith, are just as worthless. The two must go hand in hand: FAITH and WORKS. Then, one can be assured of entry into the Kingdom of God, which can come upon us at any moment of our life, with or without warning. That is what makes the imperative of storing up large quantities of oil in our lamps an urgent one, a task that must begin today, if we have not already begun, because we “we do not know either the day or the hour.”
Being Prepared is the point of the parable in today’s gospel reading. It is, as it were, the motto that Jesus expects all his follower to adopt. Being prepared is important no matter how old we are. Being ready is not just for old people. It suffices for one to read or listen the news about people who die unexpectedly in car and motorcycle accidents every day. We do not know when our end time will be. The question is not “when is it?” The question is, “are we prepared to wait and be ready?” In the gospel, we hear Jesus say, “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” In the previous chapter of the gospel, Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And, St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Since we do not know when our own end time will be, the only thing we can do is to be prepared for whenever it happens. No matter how long we have to wait, being prepared is the watch-phrase.
Let us pray with the Psalmist (Psalm 90:12): “Lord, teach us to know the shortness of our lives that we may gain wisdom of heart.” AMEN!