Thirty-second Sunday in ordinary Time (November 12, 2017)
As the church year begins to draw to a close, the liturgy appropriately draws us to two basic spiritual realities: wisdom and the kingdom of God.
I like the homey definition of wisdom: “Wisdom is what you have left when you forgot all that you learned in school.” Wisdom is rightfully given a place of honor in the first reading. Wisdom does not impose herself, is gracious to all who desire her and reaches out to those who want her. Wisdom is not a gift to old sages but a gift to everyone who cares.
The Gospel reading is from Matthew 25, the fifth and final sermon of Jesus, “the final things.”
Jesus taught in his first discourse in chapter five, “the Sermon on the Mount,” that our light should shine so others might see the goodness of our acts (5:16). Here, there is a second image that joins chapter 25 with chapter 5: oil, which burns to make the light, indicates the same thing as light. Goodness cannot be irresponsibly ignored; it cannot be borrowed.
Praise of wisdom is a perfect introduction to address an understanding of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, I think, is best described by John Shea: “The kingdom of God is a state of inner consciousness and outer action that Jesus embodies and offers to his disciples. However, receiving this offering entails strenuous effort. The disciples must transform their own conventional consciousness into the consciousness of Jesus and have the courage and the creativity to act in accord with this new vision”. This is metanoia – change of mind – of heart. Shea clearly articulates “living Jesus,” the expression St. Francis de Sales used for becoming “a new person in Christ.” The Gospel tells us that we need to be alert to meet the call when we do not expect it. The parable of the virgins stresses the failure to develop this mind-set, heart-set.
No criticism is made of the women’s need for sleep or for the lack of sharing the oil. Two criticisms are made by Jesus; first, the thought-less and care-less attitude of part of the group; they have come without engaging in the process of preparation and expect the cooperation and sacrifice of those who have come to the festivities properly prepared.
Second, Jesus is telling us of the impossibility of borrowing spiritual riches from others. Do you ever hear: “My wife/mother does the praying/church-going in my house.” I surely have. Jesus is clear in saying that each of us, individually, is to take responsibility.
The foolish imagine that Jesus will open the door for them. They don’t understand that the kingdom has already been passed on to them. What opens the door is their having the lamp of their consciousness burning with the oil of their dedicated lives. Lacking this, they will hear, “I never knew you” in spite of their claims that they knew about him and somehow value him. They have failed to appreciate, to value themselves as the new bearers of his inner consciousness and outer actions.
Responsibility is our greatest burden; it is also our greatest gift. Jesus is telling us that he takes us seriously and wants us to take ourselves seriously. It is no small responsibility to be co-responsible with god in the forming of the kingdom of God.
Later in this chapter 25, Jesus will speak of sheep who will be separated from goats on the basis of working on our inner consciousness and outer actions that flow from our inner consciousness.
The days are growing shorter. The cold weather is beginning. The church year is drawing to a close. That is the mood for today’s readings: darkness descending on Jesus and coldness of hearts on those who do not listen to his call. Not exactly a warm parable for a chilled heart, but surely a warm invitation to a warm, bright banquet hall for a listening disciple.