Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Wisdom 6:12-16, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 13, Matthew 25:1-13.
The Call to Pursue Wisdom Outside of Liturgical Worship
In the Book of Wisdom 6:12-16, we find a passage that speaks to us on the Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. This passage is consistent with the genre of Hellenistic literature that Wisdom belongs to, which proposes to instruct and encourage the Jewish people who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in a time of cultural and religious diversity. Far from their homeland, the Jews in Alexandria faced the challenge of staying faithful to their ancestral traditions and beliefs while being exposed to many other ideas and practices that could lead them astray or make them doubt their Jewish faith. In today’s reading, the admonition is addressed not to the kings of Israel but to foreign kings and judges who “rule over multitudes and boast of many nations” (v. 2).
Although these foreign rulers may have a reasonable sense that their rule was won through blood inheritance or conquering their foes, the Lord reminds them in the next verse that “your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High, who will search out your works and inquire into your plans, because as servants of his kingdom, you did not rule rightly, nor keep the law, nor walk according to the purpose of God.” So, before we transition to the admonition in today’s reading, the writer points to God as having the right to admonish because He is the one from whom their authority comes to rule. He is the judge who judges all; therefore, it is He whom they must obey.
Now that the authority of God to admonish the ruler has been established, the message of mercy is also made clear. God appears to be compassionately interested in helping the ruler rule by teaching him wisdom so that they will not offend Him and, by offending Him, harm His people, saying in v. 9, “To you then, O monarchs, my words are directly, that you may learn wisdom and not transgress.” However, before He teaches them wise things, He offers eight statements about who Wisdom is. (1) Wisdom is unfading and resplendent, meaning that she does not diminish or lose value over time, (2) Wisdom is readily perceived by those who love her, meaning that wisdom is actively sought after, (3) Wisdom makes herself known in anticipation of desire, meaning that wisdom is eager to reveal herself to those who desire her, (4) Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, meaning that those who seek wisdom diligently and earnest will earn a hope fulfilled, (5) Taking thought of wisdom is the perfect of prudence, meaning that contemplating wisdom leads to the highest form of carefulness and discretion, (6) Whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care, meaning that those who stay awake or alert for the sake of wisdom will be quickly freed from worries, (7) Wisdom makes her rounds, seeking those worthy of her, meaning wisdom is actively discerning to qualify those who seek her, and (8) Wisdom graciously appears to them along the way, and meets them with all solicitude, meaning that wisdom is not only sought after but also comes to meet those who seek her with care and concern.
The sixth point about how the pursuit of wisdom causes us to keep vigil with her and stay awake and alert is a teaching that Jesus elucidated upon in the parable the Ten Virgins in today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 25:1-13 saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When taking their lamps, the foolish ones brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.” Keep in mind that these were women who were wise enough to protect their virginity and do everything else right; otherwise, they would not have been in the position they were, but they were not wise enough to prepare for the bridegroom being delayed. When the time came to meet the bridegroom, the other five virgins were shrewd enough to protect the moment that they had prepared entirely for by not sharing their oil with the five who were not prepared. This behavior by the five virgins may seem to be antithetical to what it means to be a Christian. Some might suggest that the virgins with the oil should have shared or sacrificed it and put their neighbor ahead of them. Some might muse, ‘What place does this type of selfish behavior have in the kingdom of God?’ However, suppose we step back for a moment and away from a microanalysis of the parable. In that case, the plain teaching here is centered on the fact that we should be happy that we have a reasonable hope that wisdom will lead us and guide us to make decisions worthy of our calling.
For the Catholic, wisdom takes on a deeper meaning through the light of Christ Jesus. Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, as enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3 that we receive at Baptism and are sealed in at the conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Wisdom is also a source of hope, as we hear the Apostle Paul teaching in today’s Second Reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Wisdom helps us to discern what is good and true and to live in a way that prepares us for the resurrection and our meeting with the Lord in the air.
The liturgy of the Catholic Mass is always pedagogically leading us to wisely prepare for the coming of Christ in His Quad Presence in the sacred Scriptures, in each other, in the Priest in persona Christi, and in the Holy Eucharist so that we might reasonably hope that we might worthily receive Him after our judgment. Nevertheless, a more profound point is being made here in how we might pursue the gift of wisdom during our time outside of liturgical worship. In the Book of Wisdom 7:26, wisdom is described this way, “For she is the reflection of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness.” That is, wisdom is light from light, true God from true God, true goodness from true goodness. This is why wisdom is a highly worthy pursuit, which begins with a prayer to the Holy Spirit that He might increase and fill our capacity with more wisdom. How do we live our life outside of liturgical worship? The parable of the ten virgins gives us a good hint. Stay awake in pursuit of wisdom above anything earthly.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.