BY: Gerald M. Musa

The people of Thessalonica were also eagerly expecting the second coming of Jesus and it was their hope that Jesus would meet all of them alive so that he would carry them to heaven. They were worried and confused that some members of the community were dying before the second coming of Jesus. They feared that those who died before the second coming would be left behind at the second coming. The Apostle Paul had to write and clarify things telling them that at the second coming of Christ; those who are still alive have no advantage over those who had fallen asleep as “The dead in Christ will rise first. 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Before the beginning of the new millennium 2000 there were speculations from preachers of different religious organisations that the world will come to an end in the year 2000. There were many people who asked me from personal conversations on dinner and those who came to the parish office asking whether it was true or not that the world is coming to an end in 2000. My common answer to them was: “I honestly do not know whether the year 2000 was the end of the world or not; however, there was one thing that I was certain about which is the fact that Jesus did not mention any particular year in which the world will come to an end. All that Jesus said was: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

When Jesus asked his listeners to stay awake, he meant they should be prepared at all times. Naturally, every phase of life needs preparation and we spend our whole lives preparing for one thing or the other. Whenever we are travelling we make necessary preparations; when a mother is looking forward to give birth, she prepares for the coming of the new baby in many ways.

Artistes – musicians, performers, and speakers put in a great deal of preparation before they appear on the stage. Sports people put in a lot of time and energy towards preparing for some tournaments, matches or competitions. Schools are meant to prepare us for different professions and provide us with the skills we need for the future. Catechism classes prepare us for the reception of the initiation sacraments (Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation); Marriage courses prepare couples for married life; the seminaries are places of preparation for the priestly and religious life. Also, the celebration of the Mass is a preparation towards participating in the great banquet, which God prepares for us after we have departed from life on earth (a foretaste of the eternal banquet).

The parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins is about the importance of preparation. The wise virgins were well prepared to welcome the bridegroom with enough oils in their lamps; the foolish virgins were ill-prepared and did not make adequate preparation to welcome the bridegroom; what is the significance of lamp and oil which Jesus speaks about? A famous old song says: ‘Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, keep me burning till the break of day.’ The lamp reminds us there are three categories of Christians:

Some Christians have their lamps shining very brightly and everyone can see that light. Those whose lights are shining brightly are those who are constantly aware that they are in the world but not of the world; these set of Christians are very focussed in their love of God and neighbour and are willing to use all that they have for the promotion of God’s kingdom in the world. In addition, they see each day as God’s special gift and as the last day, which they have on earth.

• THOSE WHOSE LIGHTS ARE DIM: There are those whose lamps are very dim. The light is burning but the light is so weak that it is difficult to tell whether it is extinguished or still burning. This set of Christians are baptised, made their First Holy Communion, confirmed and wedded in the Church but they do not practice their faith actively and so their lives are dominated so much by material things. There is very little faith in this set of Christians who come to God only when they are in trouble. Their love for the material world is much stronger than their love for spiritual growth. Such people sometimes, wait for the eleventh hour before they begin making preparations for heaven. However, not all of them are lucky enough to reach the 11th hour, as some would breathe their last at the 10th hour. This is the reason why Jesus says stay awake for you do not know the day or the hour.

Finally, there are people whose lamps have no oil and whose light is completely extinguished. They are people who were once Christians but presently they do not believe in anything outside the material world and to make matters worse, some of them have turned out to be anti-Christians – challenging the message of Jesus and supporting anti- Christian ideologies and all forms of occultisms. For these set of people, the parable of being ready and prepared for life after death makes no sense and the challenge of keeping their lamps burning is meaningless. It was Mother Teresa who said: ‘To keep a lamp burning, we must continue to put oil in it.’ This is to say that our faith can continue to be alive and thrive only when we add the oil of love in it. When we pray to the Holy Spirit we ask him to enkindle in our hearts the fire of divine love in our hearts. The wise virgins in the parable appear very mean and uncharitable, as they did not share their oil with the foolish ones. The point that Jesus wishes to make here is there are things in life, which we cannot borrow, and those things are virtue and integrity. We cannot borrow the goodness of our parents, brothers, and sisters to gain entry into heaven; rather it is our level of preparation here on earth that prepares us for the life hereafter.

Jesus wants us to be like the wise virgins who were prepared for the coming of the groom. One of the parables of Jesus that has a similar theme to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins is the parable of the ‘Rich Fool’ who acquired so much wealth and comfort in the world and forgot to prepare himself for the life after this world. For Jesus, the simple way to measure the wisdom of any person is to know his or her level of preparation to be with God after the short life in this world.

Wisdom is the ability to know that this world is passing away; it is the ability to differentiate between the most important things in life from the less important; it is the gift of God that enables us to be away that there is time for everything, a time to be born and a time to die; it is wisdom that gives us a good sense of judgment to discern between the paths that lead to eternal life from the ways that lead us to destruction. Wisdom reminds us that we are all pilgrims in our journey. It is the desire of Jesus that all his followers search for the wisdom of life. The book of Wisdom tells us that wisdom is a gift from God and those who seek it will find it: “whoever for her sake keeps shall quickly be free from care” (Wisdom 6:15). It is wisdom that enables us to be more attached to God than to material things and it is wisdom that set us on the path of eternal life.

Mother Theresa says: “God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful. However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace.” No matter how beautiful the world is, we must not remain attached to it but must continually be making gradual preparation to give it up.
32nd Sunday of the Year A/
Wisdom 6:12-16;
1Thessalonians 4:13-18;
Matthew 25:1-13

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