Stay Awake

Homily for November 12, 2017 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63; Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

On one level, the message of today’s gospel reading couldn’t be simpler.  At the end of his parable about the ten virgins—five wise and five foolish—Jesus gives us the moral of the story: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  This passage comes from the section of Matthew’s gospel just before the Lord’s passion and death. He is in Jerusalem and his conflict with the religious leaders who oppose him has reached its climax.  This, together with the author’s purpose to challenge and comfort a young community of faith struggling to survive some 40 or 50 years after the time of Jesus and waiting for his return, gives our story an apocalyptic tone.

Yet as is often the case with the scriptures, and certainly when we are asked to consider several of them together, there’s more to the message than meets the eye.  Yes, God wants us to be prepared.  But how?

Our gospel reading suggests that preparation is an external manifestation of the virtue of wisdom, and our first reading reveals that we begin to develop that virtue by desiring it. If we want wisdom, the author counsels us, we will love her, seek her, watch and keep vigil for her.  Through the grace of God, “she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her.”  She wants to be found!  The author of Psalm 63 similarly describes desire for God—the Source of all wisdom—as a parching and exhausting thirst that only God can satisfy.

Another virtue that helps us to prepare well is hope.  St. Paul wrote to a very young church in Thessalonica.  Like the community to whom Matthew’s gospel was originally addressed, they anxiously awaited the Lord’s return.  Many thought it was imminent.  Some members of the community had already died, and people wondered what would happen to their deceased loved ones when the Lord came back. Paul encouraged them to prepare for the Lord’s return in hope—not only for themselves but for all who had died believing in the promise of Jesus that those who had died in faith would also rise with him.

This hope has sustained Christians for generations, and it sustains us still.  Just ask the members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  They plan to demolish the church where many so suddenly and violently lost their lives in the mass shooting last Sunday and they will convert the site to a memorial prayer garden.  They were unprepared for the horror and death that suddenly came upon them, but they are responding in faith, hope and love.  Their lamps were already lit, and they have the oil they need. +