Nov 5, 2011

32nd Sunday: "Lord, open the door for us!" Wise? Foolish?

Gisele Bauche: Waiting for the Bridegroom

The Word for Sunday:

Wisdom and foolishness may often stand side by side. When we think about our daily life we may be somewhat reluctant to admit that sometimes we are very wise: prudent, careful, thoughtful, attentive, and understanding.
But, we can sometimes be foolish.  We are impulsive, we say things we “really don’t mean” (then why do we say them?), we are selfish, resentful, lazy and think that life will just go on forever as it is.  No one has a monopoly on wisdom or foolishness.  We may often find ourselves going back, forth and in-between all in the same day!

This weekend in our scriptures, Wisdom is personified in female terms in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom: “. . . unfailing is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire . . .” The image is one of longing for the perfect beauty, the ideal match between lover and the beloved.  Here “lady wisdom” watches, sits and waits to be discovered, longing for the beloved. 
The Gospel is a kind of mirror parable about ten virgins (really ten teenage female virgins) waiting anxiously for the arrival of the bridegroom.  They are not the bride but rather, according to ancient wedding custom,  the ten young girls were likely the bride’s sisters or cousins. Half of the young virgins are wise in that they bring extra oil for their lamps since they want to be ready to greet the bridegroom at whatever hour he may arrive. They are creative, thoughtful and clever.

The other part of this group is not particularly bright. They are shortsighted and uncreative. They are unprepared and don’t seem to get it.  As the Gospel of Matthew tells us, “Five of them were foolish and five of them were wise.” If we compare the two readings, we may see that wisdom, in all its beauty, has a certain element of cleverness about it.

As we come to the end of our liturgical year, Jesus’ words are as timely today as they always are. The famed Wisdom of Solomon, the book of our first reading, was used to instruct young Jewish males in the ways of leadership.  Solomon, who prayed for wisdom, was the ideal leader: enterprising, compassionate, one who cared for the common good, and one who recognized the superiority of Yahweh God above his own earthly rule as King of Israel.  In essence young Jewish men were told to follow the example of Solomon and lead with this self-effacing wisdom.  This similar wisdom is then illustrated further in the parable from Matthew.  

From our Christian perspective, we see Jesus as the central figure in this story of the virgins and the bridegroom. Like the groom in the parable, Jesus is the groom we anticipate, the one who will return but whose coming is somewhat unannounced.

The temptation may be to assume this is a parable about the end times, the parousia, the return of Christ to this earth and the final judgment.  While it certainly can be seen as such, with the need to “be prepared,” it can also be seen as a call to not wait until that time.  Rather, to respond in the here and the now.

Jesus preached a message about the kingdom of God.  Those were not words only for the people of his time.  Scripture can never be viewed as merely ancient stories from a wise teacher but as the living and always present word of God in our midst today.
 In essence Jesus implies that he is both here and still on his way.  He is present in the hearts of all believers, in the sacramental life of the Church, in leadership, in community life, in his sacred Word.  We believe that to be true: “Where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.” (Mt. 18:20).

Like the virgins in the story who wait the arrival of the groom, we Christians look for Christ in our daily lives.  We are prepared, ready, watchful and welcome him when he arrives: in our prayer, in our service to others, in our participation in the sacramental life of the church, in the Eucharist when he comes to greet us as bread of life.

But, like the bridegroom on his way in the Gospel parable, Jesus is still not yet fully realized. That will be completed at the end of all time when the Lord comes again to this earth.  So, in the meantime, in this in-between period, we act with wisdom and have our lamps lit and burning ready to greet him.

In this new way of human relationships, with Christ as head of the Church, we find both comfort and challenge.  We would be wise to pay attention, to show up, to participate and to be prepared. As the Second Vatican Council reminded all of us, the liturgy demands that we participate in a “full, conscious and active” way. 

Such a call is true about our Christian lives. Wise people can do so; foolish individuals may not get it – or “get it” too late. We have no choice but to watch for the Lord. But we do so through our daily living of the faith.

So, wake up!  Be prepared! Don’t assume you’re retired from the Church and that the rest of life is just about coasting along and that “I’ve done my part.”    
It might be good to consider where God is for me? Am I attentive to his presence in my life or do I only give lip service to my faith?  Do I assume that life will just go on or do I daily set my heart and mind on the Lord’s presence?