Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, A
November 10, 2002
Wis 6:12-16; 1Thess 4:13-18; Mt 25:13
1) In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses an image that perhaps to us might seem a little strange about the practices involving a wedding, but the details would have been very well understood by his contemporaries and by many of those still living in Palestine. There were two main stages in a marriage. The first would be the exchange of vows. When this took place, they were married, but they would continue to live apart for several months. It was during this time that the Angel Gabriel appeared for example to Mary. She was already married to Joseph but they had not started living together. The second stage was when the bridegroom, the husband, would come to the house of the bride. They would celebrate the wedding for eight days, consummate the wedding, and then, at the end of the celebration, start the procession back to where they would live together. For this second stage, the bridesmaids would wait with the bride for the arrival of the bridegroom. He could come at any time of night. There was always a herald who would walk the path prior to his arrival, saying, “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming!,” but the bridegroom might actually arrive within minutes, hours or days. There was a law that said that if you were out at night, you had to have a lamp, which was not only common sense but prevented any ambushes, etc. People could either wait with the bride or accompany the bridegroom. But when the Bridegroom arrived at the Bride’s house, they would go on in with those who were ready and then the doors really would be shut, to prevent latecomers, for a celebration that would lasts for days. This wedding tradition, which was universal at Jesus’ time, is still found today in certain parts of the Holy Land and Middle East.
2) Jesus used that image to communicate to us three crucial lessons about how we should be living our life. A human life lived well follows the path of the five wise bridesmaids in the Gospel. The first lesson is vigilance for the Lord’s coming. This means to have an eager longing for the presence of the Lord in our lives, to constantly be on the lookout for him, to go out to meet him wherever and whenever he comes. He can come at any time and in many disguises. He comes to us in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Do we long for his presence, to receive him, each week? Do we have a hunger within such that we “can’t wait” until we meet Him in this great act of love? We go out to meet him, too, where he’s found speaking to us in his word. We go to meet him in prayer, especially where he’s found in the Blessed Sacrament. We meet him when he comes to us in the various disguises of those who come into our lives each day, in our family members, in those at work or school, in those who ask us for help or need our help. To recognize his presence here, we need to be vigilant, to be hungering for his presence, such that we’re alert to his coming when indeed he comes.
3) But Jesus is clearly also talking about when he comes for us at the end of our lives. He’s talking about our waiting for him at the moment of death. Jesus often describes heaven as an eternal wedding banquet. He’s the bridegroom. We’re called to wait for him with eager longing, with great expectation. For a Christian, death should never be morbid. If we’re ready to meet him, if the lamp of our hearts is burning for him, nourished by plenty of oil which is love, then we’ve got absolutely nothing to fear. St. Paul tells us this in the second reading today. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring those who have died with him. …We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” In another place, St. Paul said that Jesus had conquered death: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” So the Christian who is living in the Lord and then dies in the Lord, trustingly, lovingly and expectantly, should have no fear. We’re called to live together with him and actually die together with him. Christians do not live for themselves or die by themselves, but live and die together with the Lord. We die in tandem. We live in tandem. And hence the question is are we eagerly waiting heaven? Are we eagerly waiting the fullness of God’s love? If we’re not doing so yet, now’s the time, here at Mass, to ask the Lord to give us that hunger, so that we’ll always be vigilant for his coming, to live and die with him.
4) The second thing Jesus teaches us in the image of the ten bridesmaids is that there are certain things we cannot borrow. Just as the unwise virgins didn’t have enough oil for their own lamps — and oil stands for expectant love for the Lord — so we can’t borrow anyone else’s faith, hope or love. We need to have our own, otherwise we’ll be caught unready and be left outside. I can’t count how many times people who aren’t faithful to the practice of the faith and come for sponsor certificates say things like, “No, I don’t come, but my wife comes all the time.” or “But my grandmother is one of the most active parishioners in the parish.” Or “Don’t you know my cousin, Fr. So-and-so?” I explain to them that there are certain things we cannot borrow, and one of them is another’s relationship with the Lord. We can’t borrow another’s faith. We can’t borrow another’s expectant hope. We can’t borrow another’s soul or spiritual life. While Jesus wants us to give of ourselves to others, to share with others freely the gifts He has so lavishly shared with us, there are certain things that we cannot give even to those we love. There are certain things that they must do for themselves. One is to develop this relationship with the Lord, this eager, expectant, vigilant, faithful love for God. Those who think that they can borrow other’s relationships with the Lord when the Lord comes are indeed foolish, as Jesus says about the unwise bridesmaids.
5) The third lesson is that there is a time that can be too late. There are certain things that, if we think we can put them off to the last minute, we’re doing ourselves tremendous damage and we’ll be in for a rude awakening. The unwise virgins were caught off guard, couldn’t borrow oil, so then had to try to obtain some on their own, but they missed the bridegroom and were locked out. They knocked on the door saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Many of us often put off the most important things. We procrastinate on making God number one in our lives. We allow the devil to deceive us by saying “There’s always time.” Well, no, there’s a time when there will be no time left. Just as in Jesus’ time with weddings, there’s a herald that comes before the bridegroom to say, “The Bridegroom is coming,” but the Bridegroom may come within minutes, hours, or days, so we’ve all heard the herald that the Lord is coming, but we don’t know if it will be in seconds, days, years or decades. But he is coming. And we have to get ourselves ready. Jesus says at the end of the Gospel today, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Sometimes the tremendous story of the Lord’s loving mercy to the repentant thief on the Cross can, at times, lull us into procrastinating with our eternal salvation. We can look to the Lord’s mercy and say, “The repentant thief converted on his deathbed with an act of love. I’ll do the same!” But, as you know, not everyone has the luxury of knowing when he or she is going to die. We all know that many people die completely unexpectedly, with no advanced warning. It would be perilous, extremely unwise, for us to presume we’ll have that time. Even young people sometimes die, as we saw in the earthquake in Italy last week in which about 30 school children perished. All of us, no matter what age, no matter health, no matter what profession, are called by the Lord in today’s image to do now the things that are must important, so that we’re not too late.
6) Three lessons. An eager expectant waiting for the Lord’s coming in all his ways. A recognition that we can’t borrow what we’re going to need to meet the Lord when we comes. And a loving admonition from the Lord not to procrastinate on our preparations until it’s too late. This Mass is meant to help us with each of the three. If we’re truly ready to meet the Lord each week here, with our souls clean from serious sins, with our hearts hungering for Him, with the Lord himself, the Light of the World, burning inside of us fueled by the oil of love, we’ll never be caught off guard, whether he comes today, tomorrow, or ten years from now. Our reaction to today’s word of the Lord, and to the tremendous gift that is the Mass which is offered here not just every weekend but every day, will determine whether in the final analysis we’re stupid or we’re wise. Come, Lord Jesus!