Today’s liturgy brings to mind that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). “Wisdom is more precious than jewels and nothing desirable can be compared with it” (Prov. 8:11). In essence, while Wisdom is personified as a woman, the readings portray God Himself as Wisdom. We are encouraged to patiently seek the Lord and always be ready to welcome Him like the wise virgins as we gradually come close to the end of the liturgical year and our journey with Matthew’s gospel which has the central message of the Kingdom of God in various parables. In the first reading, for the author of Wisdom to communicate his notion of Wisdom, he personified Wisdom as a woman.
He said, “Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her and is found by those who seek her” (Wis 6:12). Wisdom is not just knowledge, but the ability to apply it in life’s given situation makes us wise. Hence, the author of Wisdom uses this aspect of human nature to communicate his message. He knows how much a man enjoys the attention of an attractive woman (radiant and unfading), and so he paints Wisdom as a young lover sitting at the gate to a man’s house and it takes a “Wise man” to go out in search of her. It is a plausible tactic by the author, a commendable one. The author also prompts us to reevaluate our approach towards women, suggesting that as Wisdom is found by those who earnestly seek her, so too should we approach women with genuine interest and respect.
This should help us in treating women with dignity, and to appreciate their emotional and intellectual contribution to all aspects of life. However, the centrality of the author’s message is not the woman, but God. God Himself is Wisdom. In some cases, people go to Church not because they have the desire to do so but because of a man or woman that attracts them. Through this natural means of attraction, they gradually immense themselves in the religion. Some are totally misguided because of their foolishness to satisfy the flesh. With Wisdom, we seek, find and worship God who himself is Wisdom. Invariably, like a man is attracted to a radiant and unfading woman, we too can be attracted to God and we can say like the Psalmist, “For you my soul is thirsty, o Lord, my God” (Ps 63:2). To find Wisdom is to find God. While reflecting on the imagery of a woman as Wisdom, Christ in the Gospel uses the parable of the ten maidens to compare the Kingdom of heaven.
The parable expresses the preparation of the bride to meet the bridegroom. Five of the maidens were foolish for not taking oil with their lamps while five of them were wise for having a flask of oil for their lamps. The wise ones are vigilant. Some theologians have it that ‘what separates the virgins is the same thin-line that separates wisdom from foolishness, good from bad or day from night.’ Some others see it as being prudent and imprudent or ready and unready for the bridegroom. The lack of oil of the foolish ones shows their unpreparedness to welcome the bridegroom. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. However, those that were prepared left with him at his arrival. The message of today’s liturgy is clear: As we gradually come to the end of the year, the tone of the liturgy takes our mind to end time. It questions our preparedness to welcome Christ at His coming in glory. The delay of Christ’s coming is never an excuse to be unprepared.
In fact, it’s a good opportunity to be better prepared and fix things right again. He says to us, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13). This is the focal point, be ready at all time, for the price of failing to be ready is too high, which is seen as foolishness. This readiness is evident in the second reading as seen in the first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. This is the earliest of Paul’s letter and when he wrote it, the Christians, including Paul, expected Jesus to come again in glory quite soon, obviously within their lifetime. With this expectation, the Thessalonians were concerned about Christians who have died before the second coming of Christ or those who have fallen asleep like the virgins. They were troubled that these Christians will miss out on that great future event (the Parousia), that they might miss the victory and blessings of Christ’s coming.
On this note that Paul told them, “God will bring with him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep.” (Thess. 4:14). This is our hope, the hope of the resurrection on the last day. We too will rise and go with the Lord like the wise virgin, with our lamps and flask of oil. In a nutshell, let us not live in the fear of death and grief like unbelievers who have no hope of the resurrection. It will be sad and foolish to see Christians live in fear and hopelessness of the resurrection. Rather, it will be wise for us to concern ourselves withour preparedness to receive the Lord, knowing fully well that there is no specific time for His coming. The time we have is now, to fill our lamps with oil and wait patiently for the Lord just as we were told at the reception of candle on the day of our baptism ‘to receive the light of Christ and keep it burning until He comes again.’ May the light we received at baptism dispel every form of darkness in our hearts through Christ our Lord. Amen! Happy Sunday!