01Sep 01 September. Friday, Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Being ready for the Lord’s coming

Brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13

Being ready, as seen in the wise and foolish bridesmaids

Jesus said to his disciples, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do no know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


The final outcome

Today’s parable suggests that not everyone is assured of salvation, not even among the chosen people. Only five bridesmaids were awake to welcome the bridegroom arriving so late for his wedding party; the other five who had gone off to bed were told, rather severely, “I do not know you.” The interpretation of this parable developed with time. Presumably it began as a warning that an individual’s  salvation is not guaranteed through perfect observance of Mosaic law and tradition. This was in clear continuity with Old Testament prophets up to John the Baptist, who bluntly corrected the idea that belonging to the Chosen People was enough. “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” said John. Jesus, therefore, was not saying something new, but rather imparting a greater urgency to a well-known prophetic challenge.

When Matthew wrote his Gospel in the 80’s of the 1st century, controversy was sharp on between Christ-following Jews and Pharisaic Jews. The Christians felt themselves disciples both of Moses and Jesus, while the Pharisees condemned the Jesus-followers as traitors to Moses. Some of the Jews accepted Jesus, but most rejected his Way. The Messiah had come and they were not ready to receive him. But already in Matthew’s gospel, the interpretation of the parable was evolving to another stage. The Christians now faced the question of when to expect the Lord’s second coming. The moral is, “Keep awake, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Being baptised was no guarantee of welcoming Jesus on his return. As we read this passage, we sense the tragic loss of the foolish bridesmaids. They did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off asleep. How often people let an important opportunity slip by. We need the repeated reminder, “Watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some are so absorbed in the quest for God via a rarified, world-renouncing spirituality as to despise this present life and under-value our responsibility as corporal beings. Such an imbalance can weave a web of immorality without knowing it. They nod off to sleep and hardly notice the real condition of their lives. Paul warns against sexual aberrations and rejects the excuse that the second coming of Jesus makes our actions of no consequence.

Staying awake

Though he  arrives late for his own wedding, the bridegroom  finds some of the bridesmaids still waiting, ready to escort him to the wedding banquet. Through the long hours when nothing was happening and nobody knew when the bridal party would arrive, they kept alert with their lamps burning. To explain the parable, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, ‘Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’ The Lord wants us to be faithful to him, especially during those times when he seems absent and our hopes seem to be in vain.

When the Lord calls us to be his followers, he wants us prepared for the long haul. He looks to us to keep our light burning right to the very end, through the good times and the bad times. Earlier in this gospel Jesus called his disciples the light of the world, inviting on them to let their light shine so that people might see their good works and give glory to God. Keeping our lamps burning, letting our light shine to the end, entails continuing to do the good works the Lord wants us to do, for as long as we are able to do them, so that when he comes he will find us at our post, ready to welcome him. {MH}


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