This Sunday’s Gospel focuses on the servants of the bridegroom, who are prepared to welcome him home with his bride. In Jesus’s day, a marriage was prearranged, which means that the bridegroom’s father and the bride’s father made contractual arrangements for the marriage to take place. In many, if not most, cases, children were betrothed to each other. A betrothal was the promise of marriage made some time before the celebration of the wedding. The dowry was also negotiated at this time.
The Gospel story opens just as the betrothal period officially draws to a close. The bridegroom, accompanied by his attendants, goes off to the house of the bride to bring her to his home for the wedding celebration. Final arrangements regarding the marriage contract are to be made at this time. In the Gospel story, these negotiations, in the view of the bridegroom’s attendants, take longer than anticipated. In some translations, these attendants are referred to as bridesmaids. These bridesmaids are selected by the bridegroom to serve the bride, to cater to her every wish. Later in the story, the bridegroom claims not to know five of these bridesmaids, who emerge as foolish maidens for their lack of foresight. The procession that forms around the bride, escorting her to the bridegroom’s house, is filled with music and light. Five of the ten bridesmaids chosen to serve the bride anticipate that things might take longer than expected, so they bring extra oil for their lamps. As a result, they are able to join in the festive procession. The other five, however, run off to buy more oil, and the procession passes them by. When they knock at the door, seeking entry into the wedding celebration, the bridegroom replies, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you” (25:12).
Matthew closes with the words, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). Keep in mind that this Gospel was written around AD 85. Though many of the Apostles and their followers had died, some were still alive. The Second Coming of Jesus was expected to occur in their lifetime. Matthew wants his community, even if they don’t know the exact hour of Jesus’s return, to be ready to follow him.
As Catholics, we believe Jesus died, rose, and will come again. This Sunday’s Gospel emphasizes the importance of being ready for Jesus’s return. Spiritual readiness is the personal responsibility of every believer. Jesus, through his earthly ministry, ushered in the Kingdom of God, but it is not yet complete. Therefore, we must stand ready to carry on the work whenever the Master calls. (see CCC, number 2612).
Before his Ascension, Jesus reveals to his disciples that the fullness of the messianic Kingdom will be realized in the future at a time chosen by God alone. However, Jesus clearly points out to his followers that the in-between time in which we live is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the gift he promises. The Holy Spirit has empowered and emboldened disciples in every generation to be credible witnesses in a world that still struggles with evil and injustice.
The Kingdom of God is already present within the Church, which is to serve as the transformative agent of change in the world. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be builders of the Kingdom of heaven on earth through our watchfulness in faith.
Many humans are on a lifelong quest for wisdom, and that quest calls for a high level of vigilance or spiritual readiness. As Christians, we believe God personifies true wisdom. In seeking wisdom, therefore, we are seeking God. Through the biblical Book of Wisdom, we come to understand that God’s wisdom possesses a radiance, which makes it easy to find. In embracing this wisdom, one gains an inner radiance. When we first read this story, we may have been struck by the bridesmaids’ unwillingness to share their oil. This precious oil, however, represents that which keeps faith alive for the believer. One person cannot give this to another. Each individual must cultivate faith within his or her own heart. Matthew knows this task to be difficult at times. The cares of everyday life can create tremendous pressures and burdens. But in seeking God’s wisdom, we will be gifted with the interior strength of grace, which will let our light of faith shine. Matthew also reminds us that Christ comes amid history, in the ordinariness of our daily lives, and for this reason we must undertake the spiritual work to stand ready.
From Youth Reflections – Liturgia – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A