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Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 6, 2011 (32A)
By Fr. Alex McAllister
This Sunday there is a distinct change in emphasis as we move to Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel. In the course of the liturgical year have worked our way through the whole Gospel and now we come to that point just before the events of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.
In the material presented by Matthew Jesus brings his teaching to its conclusion with a reflection on the end-times and the Last Judgement.
This Sunday we have the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and next week the Parable of the Talents. Appropriately the Liturgical year then ends with the Feast of Christ the King and Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on the Last Judgement.
So today we begin to change our focus and instead of reflecting on parables intended to counter the hypocrisy of the Pharisees we look to the End of the World and our need to be always prepared to meet our maker.
Jesus gives us this lovely parable about the wise and foolish virgins. It is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and as a story it conforms accurately to the Jewish marriage customs of the time. The Bridegroom has gone to the house of the Bride’s father, there he signs the marriage contract and then brings the bride to his own house for the wedding feast.
The ten maidservants are waiting for his return. The fact that there were so many implies that he was a very wealthy bridegroom indeed. And, of course, as is very clear the bridegroom represents Christ himself who invites us all to the great banquet in the Heavenly Kingdom.
The Bridegroom is delayed. This is often thought to be a hint at the problem caused by the expectation in the early Church that Christ Second Coming was due very soon and their having to deal with and explain his delay.
Whether this is true or not is neither here nor there. The point is that whenever he comes his arrival will be unexpected.
The two groups of maidservants represent the alternative ways of dealing with this mystery of Christ’s Second Coming. We can either be sensible and so be fully prepared, or we can waste away our time and fail to ensure that we are ready when he does come.
Christ has moved on from condemning the Pharisees and this parable is not directed at them. It would be easy for us to say that the foolish virgins represent the Jews and the prudent ones represent those who accept Jesus. But this parable is not meant in this way. It is addressed to the listener in any time or place and challenges us to decide which of these approaches to take.
Maybe the better thing for us to do is to look back on our lives and to ask ourselves the question at various times in my life to which of these two groups did I belong.
Perhaps there were long periods when I could count myself among the “wise”; times when I was attentive to prayer and lived my life in accordance with Christ’s precepts.
But equally I might be able to identify periods of my life when I strayed from the true path; times when if judgement came I would have been found sorely wanting and would have to regard myself as being among the “foolish”.
Reflecting on one’s life in this way might help us to answer the harder question which is: Where am I today—among the wise or among the foolish?
If the Lord were to call me now what would he find? Would I be ready to face him? Would I survive the judgement process? Would the verdict be guilty or innocent?
But those foolish virgins were not bad, were they? They were just improvident; merely foolish not wicked.
So what is Christ saying? I think that the message is that this very alertness, this preparedness, helps us to keep us on the right track. And the reverse side of this is that inattentiveness, unpreparedness, can cause us to drift away from the true path.
It is not easy for us to keep ourselves on the road to the Kingdom; there are all sorts of traps and pitfalls. Jesus is telling us to keep ourselves ready for the coming of the Kingdom is immanent.
By fostering in ourselves such an attitude of readiness, and indeed even yearning for that Day of Days to come soon, then we will more easily keep ourselves in line. By having that vision before us of Christ’s second coming we will not so easily be seduced by the pleasures and distractions of this world—not so easily led in another direction.
That marvellous picture of the maidservants standing in the street with their lamps waiting for their Lord gives us a real image of the second coming. When the Lord comes will we have to do a lot of running around to get ourselves ready? Or will he find us faithfully waiting and watching and longing for his arrival?
This attitude of readiness and longing can be cultivated in our prayer life. In that most familiar of all prayers the Our Father we reverently say the words thy kingdom come. These three words are a very compact way of saying that we long for its coming and that we really do want to be ready when Christ comes.
So when we say that prayer morning and night and at mass we ought to be conscious of what we are asking and let it induce in us an attitude of preparedness to meet Christ on that great day of days when all things will come to their conclusion and he will come in all his glory.
A local council built a new road in which they also built a number of homes and flats for the elderly. They were going to call the street "St. Peter's Close" until some wise person thought might not be very appropriate!
I wouldn’t worry so much about the closeness of St Peter and his “pearly gates” but, of course, Christ is very close. He is nearer to us that we are to ourselves. And when our life on Earth is over we hope that we will see him face to face and invited to be with him forever.
If this attitude of readiness that we have been talking about seems a bit abstract then think instead about Christ’s closeness. Think about how near he is to us; how much he wants us to open ourselves to him; how he wants us to live with him in glory.
In this way our awareness of his nearness will automatically lead us to live our lives in a way that is not only acceptable to him but a reflection of his love for the world.