11-12-2017 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov 13, 2017
32nd Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year—now the 32nd Sunday—our readings turn "apocalyptic"; that is, they deal with the "end times," the end of the world, the second coming of Jesus, the consummation of the earth, the full establishment of the Kingdom that we "await with joyful hope."
And our readings reflect these end times. Take a look at the second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Scripture scholars tell us that this is the oldest text in the New Testament, the first letter that St. Paul wrote, around the year 50—just 20 years after the death of Jesus, but another 20 or 30 years before the first Gospel.
St. Paul’s conversion is still fresh in his mind—the event that changed his life. On the way to Damascus, Paul (Saul) had a powerful experience of Jesus—symbolized by light, dazzling light, that blinded him but opened his eyes to the Truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians reflects his conversion, his belief, and the life of the Church at this very early date.
It was believed at the time—and St. Paul believed it as well—that Jesus would return in glory very soon, even during his lifetime. And the Christians awaited this return with great anticipation—as Jesus had risen from the dead, so would they. As Jesus was with the Father, so would they be with the Father.
St. Paul says, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those" who are alive and those fallen asleep. "For the Lord himself, with a word of command . . . will come down from heaven" and raise the living and the dead, "caught up together in the clouds" to meet the Lord in the air."
We don’t want to think literally here, as if we will meet Jesus at 35,000 feet! This is apocalyptic language. But it does mean that we will rise to new heights, to a new dimension of life, to the fullness of life, with the Lord.
And that brings us to the Gospel, written perhaps 20 or 30 years after St. Paul’s letter. The Christian community continued to wait—watchful, keeping awake, alert, for the coming of the Lord. We are the same, watching and waiting, in these "in-between times." The question is this: how do we live?
Matthew gives us the parable of the 10 virgins (bridesmaids)—taken from the wedding practices of his time—to help us understand our times, actively awaiting the Lord.
The focus is on the bridegroom, not the bride, who goes from his home at sundown to the home of his bride, and he escorts her back to his home for the wedding feast. The couple is accompanied by the wedding party, who light the way with their torches (remember how dark a village would be!). Five of the bridesmaids are wise (they have plenty of oil), and five are foolish (they have no extra oil).
For some unexplained reason, the bridegroom is delayed—a long wait, even as we wait. When he returns, the wise bridesmaids light his way to the wedding feast, and they enter the banquet. The foolish bridesmaids arrive later—but the door is shut ("I do not know you").
The important symbol here is the oil—and what is the oil? Waiting faithfully. Good works. The life of Christ within us. Prayer. The sacraments. The corporal works of mercy. We don’t just "wait"; we prepare ourselves for the bridegroom—during this "in-between" time. We don’t grow lax in our religious practices—lulled into indifference. The rite of Baptism tells us to "keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts" until the Lord comes. Our life now is preparation for the wedding feast in heaven—to be ready when the Lord comes.
And so we wait, with "oil," in joyful hope, for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.