Almighty and merciful God, graciously keep from us all adversity, so that, unhindered in mind and body alike, we may pursue in freedom of heart the things that are yours...
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16 Responsorial: Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Gospel Passage: Matthew 25:1-13
Some Things Take Time by Bishop Richard Henning
Imagine for a moment a person who is inattentive to health issues over a long period of time. Years of smoking, drinking, too much food, and too little exercise have done their damage and the doctors have warned the individual that he or she must make changes in lifestyle. Now imagine that this person, faced with the hard work, time, and sacrifice that it will take to live in a healthy way, goes to friends or family members who have maintained that kind of discipline and asks or demands that they “share” some of their health. Of course, it does not work that way. There is no easy path to a healthy lifestyle and no one else can do it for you. Why should a healthy spiritual life be any different?
The passage from Matthew’s Gospel forms part of the fifth and last major discourse of Jesus in that Gospel. This discourse, coming at the end of Jesus ministry and taking place in Jerusalem close to the events of the passion, addresses matters of great urgency. Terrible events are about to unfold and the followers of Jesus will be shaken. His words look forward not only to these events, but to the consummation of time. In both aspects, the discourse will urge watchfulness and attentiveness.
The parable in question today concerns five wise and five foolish virgins. The wise have come prepared with sufficient oil for a long wait while the foolish use up the little that they have brought. When the bridegroom arrives and the foolish ones have nothing, they beg from their wiser sisters. Having no luck in this regard, they appeal to the bridegroom but find themselves shut out of the feast.
This parable is puzzling when we consider other gospel passages. After all, we learn in parables like that of the prodigal son that it is never too late for us to return to the Father. We also hear in the gospels of the need to share our goods with those who have none and that Jesus has come for the sake of all, not just a few. Does this parable suggest selfishness on the part of the wise virgins or harshness on the part of Jesus the bridegroom?
Our puzzlement may be resolved when we realize that this parable does not address very valid concerns like care of the poor or the wideness of God’s mercy. It has a more specific purpose. Jesus’ disciples have been called to faithfulness even as they experience shattering events. It will not be easy for them to seek and find the wisdom of faith in the tumult of the real world and its upheavals. Faith is not a possession that can be given away any more than we can share health with our loved ones. It is rather a way of life that takes time and effort. In the parable, the moment of crisis does not bring a rejection of the foolish virgins, but the revelation of their lack of readiness.
The reading from First Thessalonians also addresses the question of the end times, but with regard to a different question. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, early Christians presumed that Jesus would return at any moment. Thessalonian Christians worried when some of their loved ones died before the return of the Lord. What would be the fate of those who had died when the Lord returned to His people? Paul wrote to reassure them in this regard. They need not worry for the dead - for Jesus is hope and deliverance for all the faithful, living and dead.
As we near the end of the liturgical year, our scripture readings address the question of the end times and our state of readiness. In today’s readings, we are reminded that a life of faith is just that – a life lived in faith. The passage from wisdom speaks in figurative terms of the necessity for patience and vigilance if we wish to know wisdom. We live in a world with many voices clamoring for our attention. How often do we find stillness and listen? How and when do we watch for the Lord in our lives? This is the moment to attend to our lifestyle of faith. No one can loan us their faith, we must live it and that takes time. And if time is short, as it always is, we might want to get started. The psalm passage would be a good place to start – lifting up our hands in prayer, watching through the night, and meditating upon the Lord.