Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
November 8, 2020
Matthew 25: 1 – 13
By Rev. John Tran
Memories are short! “Aw, we don’t have to worry about this hurricane. We’ve lived through a lot of them, and none of them have been as bad as this one is predicted to become. Don’t worry about it.” There are a lot of other stories: “Aw, don’t worry about gas or food. As soon as the storm passes over, we’ll go down to the grocery store and replenish our shelves… There is always a lot of gas and food…” Or, maybe they say: “A flood? Here? Not a chance… A tornado hit us? Here? Not a chance…” But there is something prophetic about the decades-old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” A lot of people make fun of that motto; they believe that they are immune to disaster. They prefer to believe in the magic. As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings begin to zero in on the themes of death, judgment, and the final coming of the Lord. We have been waiting two thousand years, and some people think that he will come within the next few years. Today’s parable reminds us that “we know neither the day nor the hour,” so we have to be prepared for the long haul. In fact, the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” is a good summary of the Gospel message. — The ten bridesmaids are symbolic of the human race. Some are foolish, so used to instant coffee and microwave dinners that they expect instant salvation as well. Others, the truly wise, know that the bridegroom's, the Lord’s, arrival may be delayed, and they are prepared to deal with that situation. They know that eventually time and the oil will run out, so they make sure they keep their spiritual backup ready.
A little background information might help us understand this gospel passage better. The marriage customs in Palestine in Jesus’ time seem strange to us, and yet these customs are still followed in Israel and Palestine today, and is sometimes followed in modern Asian countries as well. The first step in the marriage process begins with the betrothal ceremony at the bride’s father’s home where the groom meets the bride’s family and offers gifts and a marriage contract; the couple is considered married. About a year later, the bride moves into the grooms home.
This is a time of great rejoicing and the couple was feasted for a week. Before the bride came to the groom’s home there were last minute negotiations between the bridegroom and the father of the bride. This could take some time. When they were completed, the bride, groom, and family and friends of both would form a procession to the grooms house, and took a long route so that many people could offer congratulations because the feast was only for family and close friends. At the head of this processions were ten unmarried virgins who lead the procession with lighted lamps because the feast always began at night. So, you can see why it was necessary for the ten virgins to be prepared at a moment’s notice.
So, what does all this mean for Jesus’ hearers and for us today? The bridegroom is, of course, Jesus, and the virgins are Jesus listeners, or, us today as Jesus’ modern hearers. Whether Jewish listeners of Jesus' time or members of the Church today, we should be prepared for receiving God’s Son. Yes, the Jews and us have had long preparation through God’s word in the scriptures, and now, with Jesus in their midst, in our midst.
Who are we going to be: The one prepared to meet the bridegroom whenever he comes, or the one not prepared? This story of Jesus has two warnings. First, there are somethings that cannot be obtained at the last minute. How many times have we wanted to do something or share something with a grandparent, parent, husband or wife, family member or friend, and find that the moment has passed or the person is no longer with us? Neither can we be focused on the Lord when the moment to meet him comes when we are not ready. Second, it warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins could not borrow the oil needed by the wise ones; neither can a person borrow a relationship with God - that each of us must possess for ourselves. We cannot borrow good character or a good name, so we must make our own relationship with Jesus ourselves.
The good thing is that it is never to late to start this relationship, but we do have to begin it with God’s grace. We have just celebrated All Saints and All Souls, and will soon begin Advent. Is not now the acceptable time? Is not now the day of salvation? Be prepared!