A reflection on the Sunday readings for November 8, 2020
These are not the easiest days for us, both as a nation and as a world. We find ourselves caught up in the mayhem and turmoil of a political contest different from any we have experienced in recent times, while at the same time we are dealing with a pandemic unlike anything that world has faced in over a century. Amidst these challenges is a very crowded media world. I’m not just talking about the mainstream media or professional media outlets. Nowadays, we also have the personal social media accounts of millions of people.
Because I am active on social media, I have had to develop a strategy to both navigate the media world and to try and use social media to make positive change. A lot of sources give information and opinions. In navigating this, my strategy has been to “seek wisdom.” I look beyond all the information and opinions and try to find where the wisdom lies.
There are a few things that have helped me stay grounded in recent times. For one thing, in preparation for the eight-week series on John of the Cross that I facilitated, I did much research, reflection, and prayer. My prayer and reflection over the words of this great saint helped keep me oriented towards the important and true. Second, I found great wisdom in Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti. In it, he addresses some of the very issues we face today with wisdom from Scripture and Catholic tradition. Finally, reflection on the Scriptures in preparation for my daily live-streamed Masses has helped keep me focused on Christ and his Gospel. The Gospels in particular helped me clarify my priorities, question my prejudices, challenge my preferences, and alter my perspectives. All of these things have provided wisdom that has assisted me during these times.
On this day when the theme of the scripture readings is separating the wise from the foolish, how can we ensure that we are found among the wise? Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom and the Parable of the Ten Maidens in the Gospel reading give us some answers. I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned with you.
Wisdom is a Gift
Catholics consider wisdom one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yet scripture also tells us that wisdom must be sought. As today’s first reading says, “She [wisdom] is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her” (Wis 6:13).
Where and how is wisdom to be sought? First, wisdom is found in the collective wisdom of the past generations. This includes divine revelation and the Holy Scriptures. It is found in the life and message of Jesus. We also find wisdom in the accumulation of all the human knowledge that the sages, mystics, and saints have communicated and has been passed down to us. People who seek wisdom read, reflect on, and pray scripture regularly. People who seek wisdom continuously strive to deepen their relationship with God. People who seek wisdom pay attention to the lives of those who changed the course of human history—both for the good and for the bad.
Second, wisdom is found in our own past experiences. In reality, nothing is what it looks like. There is always a deeper reality in every event and every experience. There is wisdom to be gleaned from our successes and our failures, our joys and our sorrows, our relationships and our break ups, our friends and our enemies. People who seek wisdom look not just for information and opinions about daily events, but search for the deeper meaning behind them. They also look for the deeper meaning in their own daily life experiences.
Wisdom is a gift, but it only comes to those who seek it. And as today’s first reading tells us, “She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire” (Wisdom 6:13).
Wise or Foolish?
In the parable of the ten maidens, what set apart the wise from the foolish was that the wise maidens brought an extra supply of oil with them in case the bridegroom was delayed. The Jewish marriage tradition in Jesus’ time often led to the actual wedding being delayed. On the day of the wedding, the groom and his family would go the bride’s home and accompany her back to his home for the wedding. Some of the terms of the wedding were actually worked out during this visit. Sometimes, working out these terms was very time-consuming. This meant the delay of the bridegroom was a common occurrence. Even though such a delay was common, the foolish maidens did not consider this possibility when they prepared their lamps. The wise maidens, on the other hand, kept the big picture in mind. And this is the point of the parable: that being wise means living life from a big-picture perspective. Wise people never lose sight of the greater reality. They always consider past life experiences, the present reality, and the future possibilities as they live their lives.
The lesson is that we must live life from the big-picture perspective. For Christians, this means constantly keeping in mind our origin, our present calling, and our destiny. To live wisely means that we never forget from where we have come, to whom we now belong, or where we are going. To be wise is to live from the perspective of eternity. It is the foolish who live only for the moment.
One of the purposes of the parable of the wise and foolish maidens was to deal with the issue of the delay of the Parousia, or Second Coming. The early Christians believed the second coming was imminent. Years after the Resurrection, they began to get both concerned and careless because of the delay of the Parousia. Note that in the parable of the ten maidens, both the wise and the foolish fell asleep. Two thousand years later, we join the early Christians in anticipation of the Parousia. We too await the coming of Christ. How can we be sure that when the Bridegroom comes, we are indeed ready for him? How can we be sure that our lamps are lit and that we do not run out of oil?
We act wisely when we stay awake and are sensitive to Christ’s presence in our midst, in the here and now. The Christ who we hope to meet at his Second Coming is present to us today in various ways. Christ is present to us in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in the Eucharist, in the person standing next to you, in the stranger, in the hungry, in the thirsty, in the naked, and in those in prison. If we are able recognize him, then we are indeed wise.
If the Second Coming is today, are you ready? This is not the time to fall asleep. Now is the time to let the light of faith burn in our hearts. May wisdom lead us to recognize Christ in the here and now, so that at the Parousia, no matter when it happens, we will be ready. That indeed would be the wise thing to do.
The Eucharist is the source of wisdom and provides us the grace for wise living. Let us seek that wisdom and receive that grace.
Image: Foolish Virgins, Bamberg Cathedral. By Reinhard Kirchner – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2596287