32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 8TH, 2020 (R. 1: Wisdom 6: 12- 16; Psalm 63: 2, 3- 4, 5- 6, 7- 8; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13- 18; Gospel: Matthew 25: 1- 13)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
THE BRIDEGROOM IS HERE!
There was a wedding a few years ago. The groom went partying the night before, and so he was drunk at the wedding Mass. His friends tried to package him well so no one would notice. It was time for the exchange of consent; the priest said, “Repeat after me: I, Peter… (not his real name),” and the groom said, “No Father, you are not Peter, I am Peter.” The groom became very incoherent and it became clear that he was really drunk. The priest announced that they could not continue with the exchange of consent because the groom was drunk. The best man knelt before the priest and begged to say the vows on behalf of the groom. The priest turned to the best man and said, “There are many things you can do on behalf of your friend, but I am sorry, this is not one of them.”
In our attempt to understand today’s Gospel passage, it is important to note that a parable is different from an allegory. In the case of an allegory, a story is told and each element in the story stands for something outside the story. But in the case of a parable, some details may just be there to sustain the attention of the audience; the most important thing to look out for is the punch line. The story in today’s Gospel passage is a parable, as such, we must not be carried away by the quest to find out what each element stands for. We must not be carried away by the quest for its logicality. Our task should be to find out what the punch line is. Jesus gives us the punchline as, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” The first reading from the Book of Wisdom also presents watchfulness as the key to a faithful religion and the key to understanding wisdom.
The context of the parable in today’s gospel passage is that of the wedding custom of first-century Palestine. The groom goes to the house of the bride’s parents to make negotiations for the bride price and to bring his bride to his home. Meanwhile, the bridal party waits for the arrival of the groom at his home where the wedding feast would take place. More often than not, the bridegroom takes a long time in coming because of the negotiations at the bride’s home. Coming back to catch the bridal party napping was considered an achievement. Since the five wise maidens knew about the unpredictability of the bridegroom’s arrival, they made provisions for what was most essential, the oil, but the five foolish ones probably were distracted by non-essentials.
The primary interpretation of this parable refers to the Jews at that time who were told long ago that the Messiah was coming but when the Messiah came in the person of Jesus, they were unprepared and so they rejected him and lost their opportunity. The parable also applies to us today as we prepare for our individual death and for the final coming. In spite of all human efforts, predicting the time of death continues to meet a lot of failure. Even with advancement in medical sciences, there have been cases where a doctor said a particular patient had two weeks to live, but the patient lived many years after while the doctor died a week after his prediction/prognosis. This is a call to be ready always. The philosophy of “When we get to the bridge we will know how to cross it” has led many into trouble.
One point in the parable in today’s gospel passage that continues to raise questions is the refusal of the wise maidens to share their oil. We need to make it clear at this point that Jesus is not encouraging selfishness here. The point is that there are some things that cannot be shared. There are some things that we must work out ourselves without relying on others. The personal aspect of our relationship with God cannot be borrowed from others.
My dearly beloved in Christ, you cannot go to confession on behalf of your family member or friend. You cannot receive any of the Sacraments on behalf of anybody. My family members cannot stop praying because they have a priest in the family to pray for them. In Nigeria we say, “Every goat must learn to carry its own tail.” Martin Luther is quoted to have said, “You are going to die alone. You had better believe alone.” We must always set our priorities right. We must always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. For the one who fails to prepare, prepares to fail.
Let us pray to God to grant us the grace to always be at our best so that when the time comes, we may not be taken by surprise, through Christ our Lord. Amen.