By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16; Response: Psalm 62:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Gospel:,Matthew 25:1-13
The Book of Wisdom, also called Wisdom of Solomon, is attributed to King Solomon, who reigned over the combined tribes of Israel from 961-922 B.C. The book was composed about 50 B.C. There was a custom in ancient times to attribute a work to some famous historical figure. The reason this was done for Solomon is the reputation for unusual wisdom given to him in the Bible. An example is his decision to cut a baby in half to solve a dispute between two women about which of them was the real mother of the baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). In 1 Kings 4:29-34, “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond all measure … so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.” One of the objects of the Book of Wisdom was to demonstrate the superiority of Jewish wisdom over that of Egypt. Solomon’s God-given wisdom did not extend to his relationships with women (1 Kings 11:1-11; Sirach 47:19-21).
The true author of the Book of Wisdom is unknown. Location: probably Alexandria, Egypt. The book is partly an appeal or apologetics for the Jews of Egypt in view of the fact that some prominent Jews had abandoned their ancestral faith, thus causing scandal. The author has just encouraged rulers to rule justly and cultivate wisdom, though he never defines wisdom. He threatens dire consequences to those who do not heed his warnings. As our reading begins, he describes some qualities of wisdom. Wisdom is of feminine gender. She is bright; does not grow dim; is easily found; knows when she is being sought; makes herself known to her seekers. The seeker wakes up at dawn and finds wisdom sitting at his gate. Taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence. The following quote seems to be the reason this reading was selected to accompany today’s gospel: “Whoever for her sake keeps vigil, shall quickly be free from care.” In the gospel of this day, the Bridegroom makes himself known to those who keep vigil for him, waiting for him. They are admitted to the wedding feast.
Psalm 63 continues the theme of seeking, though using different metaphors; and, in this case, seeking God, perhaps as a form of wisdom. The metaphors expressing longing for God are the verbs thirsting and pining. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. For you my flesh pines … like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” The psalmist gazes into the sanctuary, longing to see God’s power and glory. “I will remember you upon my couch, meditating on you ….” How different from watching late-night television upon my couch!
In the second reading, St. Paul deals with a major problem among his Thessalonian Christians. Concluding from his preaching that Jesus would soon return to earth to take them to heaven, their concern was for those among them who had already died and were buried. Would they be left behind? He admonishes them not to grieve like people without hope; God would surely arrange to bring along with the living those who died before Jesus’ return. Here is how Paul imagines the final scenario. An archangel will descend from heaven blowing a trumpet. This will wake up the dead, and they will rise out of the ground. Paul is sure he will be among the living at that time, so he writes, “We who are alive ... will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Result: “We shall always be with the Lord.” Difficult problems arise from Paul’s solution, not solvable here. From this imagined scenario, first in England in 1828, arose the obsession with the so-called Rapture and its ensuing spread into Fundamentalist theology in the U.S. A very different scenario will be described in two weeks on the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Today’s gospel is a parable with allegorical characteristics. Meaning: a parable is a simple lesson, a lesson given in the last line of today’s gospel — that Christians must be ready for the return of Jesus. As an allegory, some elements are symbols of specific individuals or things. The parable begins with a much-used introduction: “The kingdom of heaven is like ….” This time, the kingdom is like 10 virgins. Five of the girls were wise; five were foolish. All were waiting for the celebration of a wedding. Since the groom was absent, and considering Middle Eastern marriage customs, we may assume that he was at the house of his future father-in-law to complete negotiations for taking her from her father to his own house. Negotiations were prolonged into the night. The 10 maidens brought oil lamps with them to prepare for a long wait. The wise brought extra oil; the foolish did not. The wait was long. All fell asleep. Best to follow one ancient manuscript and two commentators and add, “and the bride,” to the bridegroom.
So, the happy couple arrive at midnight and are announced. The maidens wake up and trim their lamps. Meaning: they need to trim the charred residue from the wick and add oil. But, the foolish had no oil to add to keep their lamps burning. They had to go buy more oil. While they were gone the bridal couple entered, closed the door, and the banquet began. The foolish maidens return. They knock at the door, and say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” A harsh response: “I do not know you.” The simple lesson tells us what the parable teaches: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Now, the allegorical interpretation. We are in a section of the gospel that deals with Christian concern about the end times and the return of Jesus. Jesus is the bridegroom, a term applied to him, metaphorically, 14 times in the New Testament. The long wait for the bridegroom is Matthew’s way of dealing with the fact that, contrary to expectations, the end had not arrived; nor had Jesus returned. The maidens symbolize Christians. Some of them are prepared when the bridegroom finally arrives. Others are not. Once the bridegroom arrives, it’s too late. The oil in the lamps can symbolize good works. We will hear more about good works on the next two Sundays. The wedding banquet is a symbol of eternal life.