WISDOM 6:12-16. 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18 MATTHEW 25:1-13
This time of the year is when we begin to see nature preparing for her winter sleep. It’s also the time when the Church presents us with scriptures that speak to us of death. This Sunday is one of them.
Saint Paul speaks directly to the topic in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” He assures us that, if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, if we enter the paschal mystery with him, we’ll walk with him to glory.
The selection from the book of Wisdom adds an interesting nuance to this Sunday’s reflection on death. Wisdom “is readily perceived by those who love her…and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care.” Wisdom is presented as our hearts’ deep yearning for God. Wisdom is our search for God, our pathway to God and the divine reality itself. Wisdom is the light of hope within us.
The Gospel uses a marriage custom to teach a lesson about death. Newly married couples didn’t go on a honeymoon. Instead they celebrated with their close friends for several days or even a week. The festivities began with the arrival of the bridegroom. At an unscheduled time he and his entourage of friends began a procession through the streets. A drummer usually preceded them announcing his arrival to the entire neighborhood. They were greeted in the street by the bridesmaids who carried oil lamps that lit the street as the procession continued to the house where the bride was waiting. Once the bridegroom entered the house the doors were closed and the celebration began. No one was admitted after that.
In the parable some of the bridesmaids were foolish and didn’t bring extra oil for their lamps. Late into the night the bridegroom finally arrived. The wise bridesmaids jumped up, added oil to their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. The foolish ones, their lamps about to burn out, asked their wiser friends for some of their oil but they refused lest they themselves run out of oil. The foolish bridesmaids had to go to the town to purchase oil. It was too late, though. By the time they returned the bridegroom had arrived and the doors were closed. They missed the wedding celebration.
The moral of the parable is simple. At whatever time the bridegroom might come, each of us must be ready to greet him. We can’t rely on others to make up for our personal lack of preparation. We might state the moral this way: Live every day as if it were your last. But, and this is a serious but, this isn’t the same as, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
For the Christian, being in constant readiness to meet the bridegroom means that we’re prepared to enter the paschal mystery every day and every moment of our lives. This means living in the light of wisdom. This means never fearing to die to my own ego so that I can be more alive for someone else. This is the path of wisdom. This is living the paschal mystery. This is the path to our longed-for glory.
I write this reflection not knowing the outcome of our national election. I know, however, that we have a great deal of work ahead of us, no matter who “wins.” We’ll still have to wear a mask. We’ll still have to struggle with social distancing. We’ll still have to suffer a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone or just with our live-in family. We’ll still be challenged to respond to “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too.” We’ll still have to wrestle with our personal and institutional demons. We’ll still need the light of Wisdom to guide us. We’ll still need to muster all the courage we have to enter the cycle of death and resurrection.
How else can we hope to beat the pandemic? How else can we hope to rebuild our economy? How else can we ever hope to celebrate our equality? How else can we hope to love each other as brothers and sisters, each of us made in the magnificent image and likeness of God? How else can we, as a nation, ever hope to win? How else can we ever hope to become the beloved community? How else can we be light for the world?