"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

32nd SUNDAY (A) November 8, 2020

Wisdom 6: 12-16; Psalm 63; 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

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In parts of the country trees are still ablaze with autumn fire. It is a spectacular show, even in the cities! For many of us this season of nature’s pyrotechnics is our favorite. The harsh cold of winter has not yet arrived; the cruel winds have not yet blown those leaves from the trees. The golden sunlight at the end of each day only enhances the brilliance of the multi-colored leaves. The last rays of the sun also set a quiet mood to the ends of the days. Even during these cautious times of a pandemic, we try to get out for at least a brief walk through the technicolor scene that marks these days..

But we know the color of the leaves means they are dying on their branches – soon they will fall to the ground, be raked from lawns and playgrounds and carted off. Winter is surely coming, the end of the year. The liturgical season parallels what’s going on in nature – it is coming to an end. These last three weeks before Advent shift our thoughts and prayers to the end time. We are invited to think, not only of our final end in death, but about all the endings we experience through our lives – and these days there are more than the usual reasons for grief.

The scripture readings this season encourage us to reflect on what is permanent and sure in our lives and what is passing, not worth the investment of our precious energies. These days the themes of death and limits are underlined and marked with exclamation points by the pandemic! We need to ask ourselves: What’s the focus of our lives? What can be taken away from us? What will accompany and sustain us through life’s twists and sudden turns these faith-testing days?

The author of the Book of Wisdom reminds us that one unfailing presence and guide for believers is Wisdom. She is "resplendent and unfading" – while so much we put our confidence in pales and passes away. When life takes one of those winter twists on us, what have we to fall back on; what in our lives is "resplendent and unfading" and can guide us through the cold and dark?

We might respond to this first reading by inviting Wisdom to come and make her home with us. We are encouraged to watch and keep vigil for Wisdom, for she will meet us "with all solicitude." Isn’t that what we need more of these days, "all solicitude?" The reading suggests that all who seek Wisdom shall find her, shall receive this gift of God. What is required is a sincere and seeking heart. Elsewhere in the scriptures we are told what Wisdom gives the seeker, "an understanding heart to judge and distinguish right from wrong" (1 Kings 3:9). Whereas all else is passing, Wisdom will guide us to what never fades, for she is like God, all powerful and unchanging (7: 22-27). Today’s reading suggests that even to begin the search, is to be found by Wisdom. It is more gift than effort. The effort comes in living a life faithful to the path Wisdom has shown us.

For the Christian, Jesus is God’s Wisdom personified. Those who seek him find the light that is "resplendent and unfading." Today’s gospel gives us an opportunity to sit at his feet and learn wisdom from him, so that we might become wise in God’s ways, not deceived by what is initially alluring – but transitory.

As we enter today’s parable, we meet customs from another world and another time. The bride and her attendants customarily waited at home for the arrival of the groom and his party. Why might the groom be delayed? According to the custom, the groom would be negotiating for the bride with her father and family. The bartering could go on well into the night, even for days. Bartering at great length was considered a compliment and a sign that the bride was indeed treasured and priceless. When both sides came to an agreement the groom and his family attendants would arrive to take the bride to his home. Once there, the wedding feast would begin. And what a feast it would be, lasting for a week, or more! No wonder Jesus used this slice from every day life as an illustration of his sudden return and the final and complete declaration of God’s reign. Though we know the moment of reckoning is coming, like the five foolish maidens we can easily become distracted and hence unprepared for the crucial moment of need.

I find the closing line of the parable most abrupt and final, "Then the door was locked." Not just closed, but locked! What was once open and inviting to feasters – now is locked. Can you hear the slamming of the door, the bolt’s clicking into place? Reminds me of the crashing sound prison gates make when they are closed behind you. But this is no prison; those on the inside have an end to their long wait, they now enter into a festival. Those outside are forever outside. What an opportunity they missed by squandering their time and not getting the required "oil." How dull-witted they turned out to be. Had they been productive during the groom’s delay, had they seen what was expected and required of them, and acted on it, they would not have ended in such dire circumstances.

At this writing, the number of daily deaths due to the pandemic is climbing. Now more young people are succumbing. Today’s parable points to a moment, not just at the end time, but now. It calls us to seize the moment and direct our lives guided by the wisdom God gives us in Christ. We do not yet see Christ coming. What we experience are the multitude of endings caused by the virus. There are the: much-changed routines of work, on-line schooling, crammed schedules, accustomed activities on hold, rushed family meals, fatigue from endless Zoom meetings, depressing daily news, worry and impatience for a vaccine, etc. How are we doing, how shall we respond? It depends on how well we have tended to our "oil" supply. If we have squandered it with neglect, or missed opportunities, then when we look for a backup in a moment of crisis, we may be left with the sound of the slamming and locked door. It’s too late.

But it’s not, you know. The parable’s locked door hasn’t happened yet. Jesus reminds us now that we still have time. God is available to us now with the gift of Wisdom, to show us what we must still do to keep a good supply of oil. "She [Wisdom] hastens to make herself known." We acknowledge our need and dependence on God. We yearn and search for Wisdom – it is given to us in these scriptures and in the food prepared at this table set before us.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110820.cfm