Breaking Open the Word
32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
November 12, 2023
The first reading describes Godly Wisdom, which is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The common thinking of worldly wisdom is that it is slowly obtained through lifetime experience, yet Godly Wisdom is in reach for those who call upon God for it. In this text it is very clear that God is seeking those who are willing, to give them His gift of Wisdom. It’s not a lifetime of experience, but turning to God and asking through His Holy Spirit, who is more than willing to pour it over those who humbly ask for it.
Read young King Solomon asking God for it: “O LORD my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.... Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” God not only gave him such wisdom as the world has never known, but because of his humble request God granted Solomon riches and glory like the world has never seen. (1 Kings 4:7-14).
The Wisdom of God guides us in making the right decisions on our journey to eternal salvation. This reading urges us to participate in the wisdom and goodness of God. Through the gift of free will, God gives us control over our acts, right or wrong. Human wisdom allows us to govern ourselves by doing what is right. Divine Wisdom leads us to do what is holy and good, guided by moral law. Jesus Christ is the perfection of God's Divine Wisdom. St. Paul wrote that “Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
The Responsorial Psalm is a prayer recalling David's suffering during the most lonely and fearful time in his life, when he was being hunted relentlessly for years by king Saul. He expresses his fervent desire for a close relationship with the Lord. He longs for the life-giving Presence of the Lord in his life in the same way that water refreshes the earth and sustains life. He recalls the times he spent in liturgical worship and longs for that time of God's Presence in the Sanctuary, and that nothing can compare with that experience, not even life itself. He praises God and invokes the Divine Name when he lifts his hands in prayer to the Lord, who satisfies his soul. He tells God how he meditates on Him and his peaceful relationship with Him during the night. He professes God as his help, and despite his troubles, he is grateful and joyous for his Lord's divine protection.
David loved the Lord with all his heart, and his words and actions reflected that love. We should follow his example in our lives with souls that thirst for the constant Divine Presence of the Lord, our help and our joy. There is a faintly veiled resemblance to our worship at Mass and the Eucharist in this psalm, particularly in the reference to the banquet.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us the good news that for a Christian, death is not the end of life in its fullness; it is only the end of life on earth. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, died and then rose from death to glorified life. His death and resurrection are a pledge of our escape from death in a resurrected life in Heaven.
In this gospel story Jesus is drawing a picture in our minds of a wedding scene to help us understand the Kingdom of God. Many times in the Old Testament the writers used marriage as an image of God as the bridegroom and His people as the bride. Jesus here is actually talking about His church (us) as the bride and Himself (God) as the groom, fulfilling scripture.
Weddings in Jesus’ time were very special events, celebrated for days. An important part of the wedding ceremony is the procession from the home of the bride’s parents to the couple’s new home. As the bridegroom escorts his bride to their new home, their pathway is lighted by wedding guests holding aloft flaming lamps.
A wedding is a great joy for all the members of the community, but especially so for the young women invited to serve as the bride’s attendants. It is an honor to be asked to participate, and those who agree are expected to do so enthusiastically and responsibly.
The wise bridesmaids differ from the foolish bridesmaids in that the wise have the foresight to take flasks of oil to replenish their lamps. They are set to greet the bridegroom no matter when he might arrive. They are ready, and readiness is the point of this parable.
The bridegroom’s delay is a key point in the story. Both the wise and foolish bridesmaids are prepared for the bridegroom’s coming, but only the wise bridesmaids are prepared for the bridegroom’s delay. He was expected to arrive after dark, otherwise why bring lamps? Midnight is an unexpected hour for a significant event, why would Jesus insert this into His story? To emphasize the unexpected. All 10 of them were asleep when the wakeup announcement came, but only 5 of them were ready.
The foolish bridesmaids, seeing that they do not have enough oil, ask the wise bridesmaids to share theirs, which the wise bridesmaids refuse to do. They weren’t mean-spirited, they wisely knew that if they share their oil it will quickly be gone, and the bridegroom will have no light for his wedding party. It is better that they use five lamps to illuminate the pathway than to use ten lamps at first and risk having the groom to walk in darkness at the end. The wise bridesmaids do not criticize the foolish for being unprepared, but instead suggest a solution- go buy more oil. This wedding is the event of the week for this village, and they could expect neighbors to respond to their pleas for help.
However, it no longer matters, because they didn’t have oil when it was needed. What good is their new oil now that the procession is finished? They plead, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us” but the bridegroom replies, “Amen I say to you, I do not know you.” The bridegroom’s attitude seems harsh, but it is an appropriate response to the foolish bridesmaids. This wedding is supposed to be the highlight of this couple’s life, something to remember fondly for the rest of their days. The foolish bridesmaids almost ruined to procession. Notice Jesus, in the voice of the bridegroom, says “Amen I say to you.” He is now speaking His Godly words. The point of this parable is simple- be ready. The price for failing to be ready is too high.
The theme for today is prudence and patience. Prudence is one of the cardinal virtues, along with temperance, justice, and fortitude. Wisdom 8:5-7 - “if riches be a desirable possession in life, what is more rich than wisdom, who produces all things? And if prudence renders service, who in the world is a better craftsman than she? Or if one loves justice, the fruits of her work are virtues; for she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these.”
Noah had spent years building the ark. He knew that the time for divine judgment was near, but he did not know the exact day. Then one day God gave orders to board the ark. It was God who closed the door, and then He sent the flood. The people of Noah’s day had no “early warning” that the flood was coming. When judgment came, it came quickly, and without warning; there was no opportunity for those under judgment to change their minds and to try to board the ark.
One of the best passages articulating what saving grace and faith, through patience and prudence, look like in a believer’s life is Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good."
Theme in our Life Today
The five virgins who have the extra oil represent the true followers who are looking with eagerness to the coming of Christ. They have saving faith and have determined that, whatever occurs, be it lengthy time or difficult circumstances, when Jesus returns, they will be looking with eagerness. They have prudently prepared for any circumstance.
The five virgins without the oil represent false believers who enjoy the benefits of the Christian community without a true love for Christ. They are more concerned about the wedding party than about longing to see the bridegroom. Their hope is that their association with true believers (“give us some of your oil”) will bring them into the kingdom at the end. This, of course, is never the case: using one person’s faith in Jesus cannot save another.
The “Lord, Lord” and “I do not know you” verses fit very well with Jesus’ condemnation of the false believers of Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Manywill say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name? Did we not drive out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.’”
May we not be found “going away to make the purchase” (of grace) when Christ returns for us. There is not time. Take the time now to “fill your lamp with oil” and take extra along. Keep waiting and watching with joy and anticipation.
How many people are expecting to get into heaven without putting in the work? Many people think just “being a good person” is enough, and that nearly everyone will go to heaven except those few very evil ones. But many times Jesus warns us in the gospels the gate is narrow, not wide, and just saying “Lord, Lord” is not enough.
So what is “putting in the work?” It’s daily getting to know Jesus through scripture and prayer, doing good works, receiving frequent Communion. The thing is, you have to ask yourself if your relation with God is, just enough? Growing closer to Christ will enable you to see His will in your life, and make it easier to identify sin and avoid it. That’s Godly Wisdom.
Jesus makes it clear that He has expectations regarding our behavior, standards that we must take seriously, obedience to which we must aspire. In this parable, He also makes it clear that there is a time when repentance will be too late. When the Bridegroom comes, it will be too late to borrow oil: too late to ask for help, too late to pray, too late to read the Bible, too late for baptism, too late for confession, too late to get ready. When the door closes, it will be too late to plead for mercy. It will matter not how we weep and wail and gnash our teeth, the door will remain tightly shut. Forever.
Prepare for Sunday
1. Seek to grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness, modesty, self control, and chastity.
2. Go to Confession. Clear out the unconfessed sins, for Jesus warned “...you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will come.”
3. Reading Scripture should always provoke a responsein you to the words of God.
Let us read the words of the wisdom of St. Augustine on the Cardinal virtues, quoted in the Catechism (CCC 2517):
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only God (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).