Wisdom, righteousness key to life

  • October 25, 2011

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Nov. 6 (Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)

The encounter of two cultures can be a rich and rewarding experience, especially when both sides are receptive to each other. This was the case when the religion of the Jewish people met Greek culture and philosophy during the three centuries before the coming of Christ. Many Jewish scholars expressed the faith of the Hebrew Scriptures using the symbols and concepts of Greek philosophy. Although the author writes as King Solomon whose wisdom was legendary it was clearly written centuries after the king’s death.

The Book of Wisdom exalts righteousness and wisdom as the keys to a holy and rewarding life. Wisdom is not factual knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom is not an intellectual exercise. It is an awareness of the laws and teachings of God and the skill of knowing how to apply them to everyday life. Wisdom is portrayed as a transcendent female figure — almost like a goddess — but also in terms that resonate with the way in which the Spirit is portrayed in the New Testament. She is not in hiding and can be found everywhere especially in the midst of an active engagement with life. But her gifts will only be given to those who earnestly seek her, and this means setting one’s heart and mind on all that is good, holy and just. A casual interest will not do — as in Psalm 63 there needs to be a hunger and thirst at least as strong as what we feel for the necessities of life.

When it comes down to it, learning to live and love is the whole reason we are here on Earth. Wisdom will meet us in every situation, regardless of how difficult or painful it may be, if we are humble and open. Perhaps we can fast-forward to our own day and ask ourselves what contemporary thought and culture has to teach us as well as what we have to offer.

Paul is dealing with a pastoral situation that has little if anything to do with the pursuit of wisdom. The early Christians believed that Jesus was going to return at any moment to take faithful believers with Him. But what about the poor folks who died while they were waiting? Were they going to be denied? Paul challenged them to have a broader view. Using some of the symbols of the apocalyptic theology of the day he reassured them that the decisive moment would include everyone, both living and dead. The Lord will always find us wherever we are so there is no need to muscle our way to the head of the line.

The rather strange parable of the 10 bridesmaids was addressed to Matthew’s community towards the end of the first century. Many years had passed since the death and resurrection of Jesus and still He had not returned. People being people, spiritual and moral fervour had begun to cool. People perhaps thought that they had lots of time — no need to rush or be anxious — and maybe Jesus wasn’t going to come after all. This is one of many New Testament parables that stress the absolute need to stay spiritually awake and alert. Some people are like the foolish bridesmaids — ill prepared, careless and unthinking in their approach to life. Events always seem to overtake and overwhelm them.

Today the return of Jesus does not generate as much urgency or concern as long ago but the message still speaks to us. We may think that life is long but the years fly by with frightening speed. And we are not guaranteed many years — some lives are tragically short. We can only count on today, and it is each day that we are given the opportunity to encounter God. Our purpose in life is not just to stay out of trouble and wait patiently until we die but to make the most of the life we have been given and to grow spiritually. After all, the oil in the story symbolizes the spiritual wisdom of the believer and it fuels the lamp that provides light for all.

Mistakes are often painful and occasions for regret. But far more serious is the squandering of opportunities for loving and learning. Stay awake and alert — keep the lamp burning brightly.