Detail from the Rossano Gospel, 11th Century
Homily for Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time A, November 12, 2017
What is wisdom? What does it mean to be truly wise? These are the questions put before believers in today’s scripture selections. In an attempt to find a fresh approach and to put a new face on this timeless but ever timely topic, a scripture scholar Patricia Datchuk Sanchez decided to consult “the mouths of babes”.
She wrote: “When I asked our fourteen-year-old son, “What does it mean to be wise?” He replied, “Knowing something.” When asked, “What is wisdom?”, his answer was, “knowing a lot of something.” To the same questions, our thirteen-year-old son replied similarly. Then, I asked if he thought there were a difference between being smart and being wise. After thinking for a few moments, he said, “A smart person knows a lot of facts but a wise person has knowledge that comes from experience.” When I put the questions to our eleven-year-old daughter, she offered the following: “Wisdom means knowing right from wrong. . . a wise person knows what is right and does it.” Finally, it was our nine-year-old son’s turn. He said simply, “A wise person is somebody who knows how to make the right choices.” When I asked him how a person gets wisdom, he replied, “I guess you have to ask God. . . did you need to know anything else, Mom?’” (Sanchez)
“[Wisdom] is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her…Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.”
Wisdom is the overarching theme of our readings; readiness and patience are considered in light of wisdom. As we approach the end of the liturgical year we see that our readings speak of the end times. For the early Christians the return of the Christ was seen as something imminent. As years and then generations were passing by, Matthew and Paul and the other Christian authors of that time were encouraging the members of the early Church to endure their trials, to remain steadfast in their commitment to Christ, and to be ready for the return of the “Bridegroom.”
If we consider the parable in this light we see that Christ is the Bridegroom whose coming is delayed, the five wise maidens are those Christians who have remained steadfast and prepared, and the five foolish maidens are those Christians who have wavered in their commitment. We can see then why the wise maidens couldn’t give oil to the foolish maidens because the “oil” is the wisdom of God that must be sought for oneself.
Patience is the third element of the readings. We are longing for the Lord. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God…my body pines for you like a dry weary land without water.” We are like children on a journey asking our parents: are we there yet? It is hard to remain patient; it is hard to maintain enthusiasm for something that seems so far beyond our reach. None of us can live our lives as if it was our last day. “Spiritual wisdom offers a nuanced answer here: We can and we can’t! On the one hand, the distractions, cares, and pressures of everyday life will invariably have their way with us and we will, in effect, fall asleep to what’s deeper and more important inside of life. But it’s for this reason that every major spiritual tradition has daily rituals designed precisely to wake us from spiritual sleep, akin an alarm clock waking us from physical sleep. (Foley)
It’s for this reason we need to begin each day with prayer. What happens if we don’t pray on a given morning is not that God is angry with us, but rather that we tend to miss the morning, spending the hours until noon trapped inside a certain dullness of heart. The same can be said about praying before meals. We don’t displease God by not first being grateful before eating, but we miss out on the richness of what we’re doing. Liturgical prayer and the Eucharist have the same intent, among their other intentions. They’re meant to, regularly, call us out of a certain sleep.”
“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."