By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. It is also called the Wisdom of Solomon. King Solomon had been dead for more than 800 years when this book was composed sometime between 100-50 B.C. In ancient times, it was customary to attribute literary productions to famous individuals of the distant or not-so-distant past. It happens in both Old and New Testaments. A famous name would give more authority to a given book or document. Solomon was especially known, at least biblically, for wisdom. He ruled the combined kingdoms of Judah and Israel from 961-922 B.C. We read in 1 Kings 4:30-31, “Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the peoples of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than all other men . . . .” This may be so, but when it came to women, his wisdom took a vacation. See 1 Kings 11:1-13. The name of the author of the Book of Wisdom is unknown. He was well-educated in the classical literature of the time, such as Homer and Plato. One of the book’s purposes was to make proud of their faith and traditions the multitudes of Jews living in Egypt. The Book of Wisdom is not in the Hebrew Old Testament but in the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint.
Today’s reading is part of an exhortation to seek wisdom. The author has just spoken of the duty of rulers to cultivate wisdom, to make wisdom guide their governance. Unfortunately, he never defines wisdom. One might conclude that one definition of wisdom is the material the author includes in his book. He writes, “Look forward to my words. Yearn for them, and they will instruct you.” At this point our reading begins. “Wisdom is bright, does not grow dim. She is easily found by those who look for her.” Wisdom knows when she is being sought. Therefore, she makes herself known to her seekers. The seeker wakes up at dawn and finds her sitting at his gate. Perhaps the author gives us his implied definition of wisdom, when he writes, “Taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence.” In the next line we see the reason for the selection of this reading to accompany today’s gospel, “Whoever for her sake keeps vigil, shall quickly be free of care.” In the gospel of this day, the Bridegroom makes himself known to those who keep vigil for him. They are admitted to the wedding feast.
The Responsorial Psalm 63, continues the theme of seeking, but in different terms. “My soul is thirsting for you, Lord my God.” Characteristic of Hebrew poetry, a similar thought is repeated in different words, “For you my flesh pines . . . , like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” The Psalmist gazes into the sanctuary with longing to see God’s power and glory. “I remember you upon my couch,” followed by a similar thought, “through the night watches I will meditate on you . . . .”
In the second reading Paul gets to the heart of a problem worrying the Thessalonians. Due to Paul’s preaching, they were convinced that Jesus would soon return. That was fine with them, but some of the Christians had died. What would happen to them? He admonishes them not to grieve like those who have no hope. God will surely arrange to bring along with the living those who died before Jesus’ return. Paul presents his idea of how the return of Jesus will happen. An archangel will sound off accompanied by God’s trumpet. Jesus will come down from heaven. The dead will rise first. Then the risen and those still living will be snatched up together to meet the Lord in the air, and always be with the Lord. There are other scenarios in the New Testament, one of which we shall see in the Gospel of the Solemnity of Christ the King.
This Sunday, the gospel reading is one of three end time parables in Matthew 25. The first parable speaks of 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish. Five were wise. The wise brought extra oil because the bridegroom might be delayed. The foolish made no such provision. The bridegroom’s arrival was “long delayed.” All fell asleep until midnight, when a cry was heard, “The bridegroom has arrived! Come out to meet him!” Then all got up and trimmed their lamps. (The wick in an oil lamp needs trimming, that is, removal of the charred residue which accumulates at the top of the wick as it is consumed by the flame which feeds on the oil which saturates the wick.) Much of the oil had been consumed during the delay. The wise virgins added the extra oil they brought, but the foolish virgins were running out of oil. They asked the wise to share, but they could not because they themselves would not have enough. The foolish go off to buy more oil. The bridegroom arrives while they are away. The wise enter the wedding banquet. The foolish return, but the door is locked. They beg the bridegroom to open the door, but he replies, “I do not know you.” Matthew adds a warning: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The parable is not about wedding customs, nor about people who habitually arrive late for Mass. It’s about the return of Jesus. Early Christians, including St. Paul and Mark’s gospel, expected Jesus to return quickly to earth and end earthly existence, at least for his chosen ones. As noted above, there were different scenarios for this, other than Paul’s view in our first reading. By the time Matthew composed his gospel in the eighties of the first century, people began to wonder about the promise of Jesus’ return. The parable tells us the bridegroom is “long delayed.” Thus, Matthew copes with the fact that Jesus had not yet returned. The bridegroom is Jesus, a title used for him more widely in Johanine Literature (John’s gospel and letters). Its use by Matthew indicates a wider usage in the Church. The virgins are Christians waiting for the return of Jesus. Since they know neither the day nor the hour, the wise represent Christians who are always ready to meet Jesus, the bridegroom, and enter eternal life with him. The foolish virgins represent Christians who have not sufficiently prepared for the wedding banquet — a symbol of eternal life.