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32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 63:2-8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind, and this is the reason we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Wisdom and Watchfulness
In the First Reading, we are urged to seek the Wisdom of God that guides us in making right decisions on our journeys to eternal salvation.  Human beings can participate in the wisdom and goodness of God.  He gives His human children control through the gift of free-will over their acts.  Wisdom gives them the ability to govern themselves in doing what is right and good according to moral law that is the work of divine Wisdom. Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:1-2), and it is Jesus Christ who is the perfection of God's Divine Wisdom. Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).

In the Responsorial Psalm, we hear the heartfelt longing for God's divine presence from the psalmist who defines what is meaningful in his life in terms of his relationship with his Lord.  He says he longs for the life-giving presence of the Lord in his life in the same way that water refreshes the earth and sustains life.  He expresses his gratitude for the Lord's guidance, and he cherishes the closeness of his relationship with the Lord in the liturgy of worship.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul explains what will take place when the Lord Jesus returns in glory to collect His Church. His resurrection is the hope of our future resurrection.  We must watch for Christ's return that signals the final victory over death.  He will gather all Christians who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, and both the living and those who have died will join Him in the clouds to begin the climax of salvation history. 

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus gives another "Kingdom of Heaven" parable in which the focus is watchfulness and preparation, using the example of virgins waiting for the coming of their bridegroom to take them into the wedding feast.  The virgins represent the Christian communities waiting for Jesus the Bridegroom to take them to the wedding feast that is the heavenly marriage supper of the Lamb and His Bride.  It is the wise virgins who are prepared to greet the bridegroom.  Like the other "Kingdom Parables," Jesus' teaching concerns those in the Kingdom of the Church who have faith in Him, the Divine Bridegroom, as Lord and Savior.  These are the ones, throughout the generations of the Church, who have waited faithfully for the Second Advent of the Christ.  Jesus' warning is to be prepared and vigilant because you do not know the day or hour when He will come for the Church as a whole and for you as an individual.

The First Reading Wisdom 6:12-16 ~ Exhortation to Seek Wisdom
12 Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.  13 She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; 14 whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.  15 For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; 16 because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.

The message of the inspired writer extols wisdom and promises that the one who seeks the wisdom of God will find it.  He personifies wisdom, praising the unfading permanence of wisdom (verse 12) who "hastens to make herself known" to those who desire her (verses 13-14), and teaches people right living (verses 15-16).

God's truth is wisdom, the moral law is the work of wisdom, and God gives man the choice of participating in His wisdom that is a divine gift.  It is by Divine Wisdom that God commands the whole created order and governs the lives of men and nations.  He alone made the heavens and the earth, and only He can impart true knowledge of every created thing in relation to Himself.  It is God's desire to allow His creatures to share in His being, wisdom, and goodness.  Scripture tells us, O LORD, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom you have made them all (Ps 104:24).  It is because God creates through wisdom that His creation is ordered: You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight (Wis 11:20).  Human beings can participate in the wisdom and goodness of God.  He gives His human children control through the gift of free will over their acts and the ability to govern themselves in doing what is right and good according to moral law that is the work of divine Wisdom. Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:1-2), and it is Jesus Christ who is the perfection of God's Divine Wisdom, as St. Paul writes, Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).

Responsorial Psalm 63:2-8 ~ Seeking the Lord
The response is: "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God."

2 O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Response:
3 Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, 4 for your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you.
Response:
5 Thus will I bless you while I live; lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name. 6 As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
Response:
7 I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you: 8 you are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
Response:

This psalm, attributed to David when he was an outlaw in the wilderness of Judah (1 Sam 22-24), expresses the fervent desire for a close relationship with the Lord.  He says he longs for the life-giving presence of the Lord in his life in the same way that water refreshes the earth and sustains life.  In verses 2-5, he recalls the times he spent in God's divine Presence in liturgical worship.  His desire for God in his present condition is intensified by his previous experience of meeting God in the Sanctuary.  He says nothing can compare with that experience, not even life itself (verses 2-3).  He praises God and invokes the Divine Name when he lifts his hands in prayer to the Lord who satisfies his soul (verses 4-6).  He tells God how he mediates on Him and his relationship with God during the night (verses 6-8).  He professes God as his help, and despite his troubles, he is grateful and joyous for God's divine protection.

The psalmist's heart-felt longing for God, his gratitude for the Lord's guidance, and how he cherished his relationship with the Lord expressed in the liturgy of worship is an example for all of us.  The word "love" is more than a feeling.  In the deepest expression of the word, it is a verb requiring action.  David loved the Lord with all his heart and his words and actions reflected that love.  We should follow his example in our lives with souls that thirst for the constant presence of the Lord, our help and our joy.

The Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ~ The Promised Second Coming of Christ
13 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. 18 Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

St. Paul instructs the Christian faith community at Thessalonica concerning the promised Second Advent of the Christ.  Jesus spoke of His return in His discoursed in John 5:24-31, in Matthew 24:26-25:46, and at the Last Supper in John 14:2-3, 28-29.  However, about 20 years have passed since Christ's Ascension and the faithful have begun to wonder about His promised return (see 2 Pt 3:3-10).  They are concerned for their loved ones "who have fallen asleep" in physical death and wonder when their "awakening" in the Resurrection will take place.  Paul urges the community to have hope (verse 13).  They are not like unbelievers who have no hope of a resurrection from death and will suffer two deaths: one physically and the other spiritual death which Jesus calls "the second death" (Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). 

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes, It is appointed for men to die once."  The good news is that for a Christian, death is not the end of life in its fullness; it is only the end of life on earth.  Our Savior, Jesus Christ, died and then arose from death to glorified life.  His death and resurrection is a pledge of our escape from death in a resurrected life in Heaven.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him (2 Tim 2:11-12).  Jesus' resurrection is the cause of our promised resurrection.

In verses 15-17, Paul assures them that those who have already died will not be at any disadvantage compared to those who are still alive when Jesus returns.  Paul is not referring to the general resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked at the end of time but only to those who "die in Christ."  He says that there will be three signs of Christ's return:

  1. Jesus will descend from Heaven.
  2. There will be a shout of command from an Archangel.
  3. There will be the sound of the shofar that is the trumpet of God.

In the Old Testament, the ram's horn trumpet (shofar in Hebrew) announced the Theophany of God at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16).  It was also sounded to announce the call to battle as in the Battle of Jericho (Josh 6:1-5).  This time the trumpet announces another Theophany of God and victory over death and Satan in Jesus' return.

Paul also identifies two groups of Christians at the Second Coming of the Christ:

  1. Those who have already died will arise to join Christ in clouds.
  2. Those still alive will follow them to meet the Lord in the clouds (see 1 Cor 15:51; 2 Cor 5:2-4).

Paul then advises the Thessalonians to comfort each other with his words of hope for the day when all Christians will be with our Lord forever (verse 18).

The Gospel of Matthew 25:1-13 ~ The Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Necessity for Watchfulness
Jesus told his disciples this parable: 1 "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' 10 While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.  11 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' 12 But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

Covenant marriage is one of the reoccurring symbolic images the Old Testament prophets used to describe the covenant people's relationship or lack of relationship with Yahweh (see Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets).  Jesus uses the same imagery in this parable.  The Greek word that describes the ten women in the parable is "parthenos," which means "virgin," an unmarried maiden in a state of bodily integrity.  It is the same word used for the Virgin Mary in Matthew 1:23 and in the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 for the future Davidic maiden who will bear the Messiah (quoted in Mt 1:23 and applied to Mary).  Jesus' teaching is another "Kingdom of Heaven" parable, and the focus is watchfulness and preparation.  Like the other "Kingdom Parables," it concerns those in the Kingdom of the Church who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior (the divine Bridegroom) and, throughout the generations of the Church, have waited faithfully for the Second Advent of the Christ. 

Jesus told this parable to encourage the citizens of His Kingdom of the Church not to be discouraged if His promised return seems delayed for a long time.  St. Peter advised the faithful in his second letter to the universal Church, But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard delay, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance  (2 Pt 3:8-9). 

The virgins in the parable are waiting for the bridegroom to take them to the marriage feast.  In the Greek text, the word for marriage is plural, gamos.  As in all parables, the elements in the parable are symbolic.  In the Christian tradition:

  1. Christ is the Bridegroom and His Church is His pure, virgin Bride (see Mt 9:15; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:21-33; Rev 21:2, 9 and 22:17).
  2. The ten virgins represent the Christian communities of the Church (Eph 1:6; 5:27; Rev 19:7).
  3. The burning oil lamps represent God the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:7; 3:16; Acts 2:3-41 1 Thes 5:19).
  4. The wedding banquet is the heavenly wedding supper of the Lamb and His Bride at the end of time (Rev 19:6-9).

The virgins represent the Christian communities waiting for Jesus the Bridegroom to take them to the wedding feast that is the heavenly marriage supper of the Lamb, described by St. John in the Book of Revelation.  John wrote: Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.  For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready.  She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment (the linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones).  Then the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb" (Rev 19:7-9).  Our Eucharistic banquet looks forward to this event.

In the parable, all the virgins have oil lamps which they must keep burning as they await the coming of the Bridegroom.  The flames of the oil lamps represent the spiritual light of the Holy Spirit giving life to the Church.  Fire is a symbol of the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions in both the Old and New Testaments.  In the Exodus out of Egypt, the fiery pillar of cloud represented the presence of God guiding the children of Israel on their journey.  And in the Jerusalem Temple, the seven burning oil lamps of the golden Menorah (lampstand) represented the presence of God's spirit within the Sanctuary.  In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Christ who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk 1:17; 3:16).  Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said: "I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled!" (Lk 12:49).  On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus' Ascension to the Father, God the Holy Spirit possessed the New Covenant community praying in the Upper Room in the form of tongues of fire (Acts 2:3-4).  And St. Paul warned "do not quench the Spirit," meaning quenching the fire of the Spirit in the Christian's or the Church's life (1 Thes 5:19; also see CCC 696).

All ten virgins carried oil lamps.  Oil lamps were the common means of lighting for centuries (see Ex 25:31, 36-37; 27:20).  Clay lamps filled with olive oil with a wick inserted into the oil-filled reservoir and carried in the hand were the most common.  The wicks were trimmed occasionally to keep the flame burning brightly.  The lamps burned so long as there was a wick and sufficient oil. 

The ten maidens are betrothed virgins awaiting their wedding to the Bridegroom.  It was the practice for a Jewish man to announce his betrothed to a girl after signing the marriage contract, but the actual wedding did not take place until the bridegroom had prepared a home to receive his bride.  The period of betrothal could take as long as a year.  In the meantime, the bride prepared herself for the coming of the bridegroom when he would take her to her new home where they celebrated the wedding with guests in a feast.  Jesus promised that He would return to take His Bride, the Church, to His "house" in Heaven.  Jesus told His disciples, "I am going to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be" (Jn 14:2b-3).

In the parable, the bridegroom is delayed in his coming.  This delay is similar to the delay of the return of the Master in the Parable of the Wise and Faithful Servant and the warning to "stay awake" to be ready for the Master's return in Matthew 24:42-44.  It is a reminder that we do not know when Christ, our Bridegroom, will return (Mt 24:36, 44).  Notice the contrast between the virgins in the parable.  Five of the ten virgins are prudent and watchful.  They are the Christian communities or individual Christians who are vigilant in awaiting Christ's return and maintaining the purity of their souls.  They keep their lives right with God in obedience to Jesus' teachings and commandments in preparation for the "Parousia" (coming) of the Christ.  However, only half the virgins/Christian communities are prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  The ill-prepared virgins are the Christian communities and individuals who have neglected their purity and vow of obedience. 

10 While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.
The ill-prepared virgins miss the coming of the bridegroom because they waited too long to restore their oil, representing their spiritual purity, and they cannot enter the wedding feast.  See the teaching in Matthew 22:11-14 and the parable of the wedding guest who was also not prepared because he was not dressed in the garment of grace and was cast out into the "darkness."  Like the door of the Ark that closed at the coming of the flood judgment, the door to the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to those who do not prepare for the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church.  At the moment of His coming, it will be too late to repent covenant failures, personal sins, and neglect of the poor.

11 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, "Lord, Lord, open the door for us!  12 But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you."
The warning that Jesus gave in Matthew 7:21-23 is repeated in this parable—not everyone who calls Jesus "Lord" will enter the gates of Heaven, but only those who do the will of God the Father.  Jesus' response to those who failed in their obedience to be prepared for His coming is that He never knew them.  "Knowing" someone intimately in the Bible is either through sexual intimacy or the intimacy of a covenant relationship.  Jesus' rejection of the foolish virgins/failed Christians is because they never fully committed to the intimacy of covenant union with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  Instead, they went their own way with their own interpretations of what obedience meant.  His warning is, "Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour of His coming!"  

Jesus repeats the warning He gave in His judgment discourse in Matthew Chapters 23-25: be prepared and vigilant because you do not know the day or hour when He will come for the Church as a whole and for you as an individual.  St. Peter described the day of the Lord's Second Coming this way, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar, and the elements will dissolve by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out (2 Pt 3:10).  Will you be found to be among those who are prepared to receive the divine Bridegroom?

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

Catechism References (* indicated Scripture is quoted in the citation):
Wisdom 6:12-16 (CCC 216, 283, 295, 299, 1303, 1831, 1950, 1954)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (CCC 1012*), 4:14 (CCC 649, 989*), 4:16 (CCC1001), 4:17 (CCC1025*), 4:18 (CCC1687*)
Matthew 25:1-13 (CCC 672, 796*), 25:1 (CCC 672*), 25:6 (CCC 1618*), 25:13 (CCC 672*)