God's Word on Sunday: Fear not, the Lord leaves no one behind

  • November 9, 2023

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

Wisdom and knowledge are not identical. A person can have a tremendous amount of knowledge and yet be evil or amoral in their use of it. We see examples of this all around us as scientific knowledge is used to kill and destroy. Humanity is awash in information and facts but they are of little help in facing the challenges of life and the needs of the world.

Life is not a quiz show or Trivial Pursuit game — it is serious business and humans do not have a good track record with using knowledge wisely. We need only take a look at the world around us for confirmation. In order for factual knowledge to be helpful it must be wedded to wisdom. Wisdom is the capacity to choose between good and evil and to discern the correct and life-giving path in the application of knowledge. In the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament, wisdom is portrayed as a woman who bestows the gift of understanding on those who seek her. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as the wisdom of God, and in the opening verses of John’s Gospel, Jesus is described in ways similar to the description of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom. It is divine guidance coming to us in another form. The people most likely to acquire this wisdom are ardent seekers and those always eager to expand their horizon and to deepen their understanding. In other wisdom passages, sincerity and simplicity are described as attributes likely to lead to enlightenment.

We do not achieve wisdom by storm, guile, bribery or manipulation, but by humility and sincerity of heart. Lady Wisdom is adamant: she will not enter into the hearts of the arrogant and proud.

The blast of the trumpet and the shout of the archangel signify that the end has come. That is when the apocalyptic event ridiculed and derided by so many finally occurs. Both the living and the dead will be raised, rising to meet the Lord in the air. This description lends itself to many interpretations, but one fact remains: No one gets left behind, and the Lord keeps His promises.

Many in the Thessalonian community had suffered from a serious attack of FOMO (fear of missing out). Since some members had already died, they were sure there were going to be some empty seats. Paul had to assure them that God would not allow us to miss out. But we are warned that the Lord will come suddenly and without warning, and from that moment on, plea bargaining is of little help. The blast of the trumpet could occur tomorrow or 10,000 years from now. It does not matter — what matters is being prepared.

In many spiritual writings, “sleep” is not a good word. It signifies spiritual sloth, lack of understanding and a pervasive lack of awareness of the spiritual drama that is unfolding in our world. In many respects, it describes our own world. In the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, the women went out to meet the bridegroom — Jesus Christ — but His arrival is delayed. This reflects the first-century time in which it was written. The delay of the second coming of Jesus was a major issue, both theologically and pastorally. There was the question of the reliability of the recorded words of Jesus. Would He come again or not? And the zeal and ardour of many had begun to cool, laxness set in and some drifted away from the faith.

This parable was both encouragement and warning. Do not fall asleep. The Lord’s arrival will be sudden and unexpected. The wise bridesmaids were the ones who used the time well, remaining awake and tending their lamps. Those who had fallen asleep had let their lamps flicker out and they did not have enough oil. When the bridegroom arrived, there was panic. The foolish bridesmaids tried to mooch some oil from the wise bridesmaids, but they would not hear of it.

We cannot expect others to do our spiritual work for us, nor can we ride into the kingdom of God on another’s coattails. The foolish bridesmaids were locked out of the banquet hall, for their spiritual laziness and inattention had done them in. Jesus ends with the warning to stay awake, for we do not know the day nor the hour. And that warning still stands.