32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom supplies the first reading for this weekend. The title of the book itself teaches a lesson.
As centuries passed, foreign influences virtually overwhelmed the Holy Land. Times were perennially hard. Understandably, many Jews left their ancestral homeland in search of better lives. They emigrated but went to places where paganism prevailed.
In these new places, devoted Jews found themselves required to explain and defend their ancient belief in the One God of Israel.
This book, among others, arose from this process. The title simply makes the point that acceptance of the God of Israel is the wise choice, a logical choice, not a leap into fantasy.
An interesting literary technique in this book is that wisdom is personified, described as if this human attribute were a person, moving through the world, being available to humans.
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading. This epistle was sent long ago to the Christian community in Thessalonica, now the city of Saloniki in modern Greece. The presence of Christians in Thessalonica at that time shows that the Church had already moved beyond its geographic origins and was becoming a factor in Europe, not only in Asia.
Paul makes several important theological points in this reading. First, he expressed the Christian thought that life endures after earthly death. Such a concept was not Hebrew in origin, at least not in its purest and more intellectually developed origins. It was an idea in Greek philosophy, but Christian thought contributed to this idea by insisting that eternal life was intimately connected with the reality of an individual person’s acceptance, or rejection, of God in a person’s earthly existence.
Second, Paul drew the link between Christ and each Christian. He favored no theme more. It was fundamental. Christ lives forever. He overcame death. He rose. So, Christians who earnestly accept the Lord must die to share in this victory over death.
St. Matthew’s Gospel is the source of the third reading. It is the familiar parable of the bridegroom and the foolish and wise virgins. Some commentators raise an interesting suggestion. Maybe the virgins, wise or otherwise, were symbols of disciples. (While not apostles according to any learned reading, women nonetheless were among the Lord’s disciples.)
Jesus, of course, extolled virginity among followers.
Persecuted, early Christians impatiently awaited the coming of Jesus, believing that when Jesus came in glory, they would be vindicated. Threatened in so many ways, frightened, they yearned for the Second Coming.
The parable teaches that Christ indeed will come again. Present times are passing. Eventually, maybe soon, the Risen Lord will return in triumph.
It is never too late for any sinner to repent. Millions of people have turned from sin to virtue in the last moments of earthly life. The Church is always prepared to aid in such conversions, lavishly allowing priests to absolve from almost anything at the hour of someone’s death.
The Church, through Matthew, tells us this weekend to be prepared for whatever awaits us. We cannot with assurance predict the next minute. Something dramatic can happen suddenly – and often does.
It also urges us to live each day as a disciple. Be with Christ now, not just at the last minute. Being separated from God, waiting for some wonderful last-minute spiritual rebirth, is no way to live. Be at peace with God. “Life is too short,” as they say.
This advice is so logical, but life for any of us can be daunting. Paul is clear: Hardships, disappointments, hurts, and limitations are many, but they weaken, if we are faithful to Jesus. Overcoming the toils and pains of earthly life, through living with the Lord, is rewarding and strengthening.
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