Wisdom 6:12 – 16
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of Wisdom. Again, the passage was clearly chosen to prepare us for the Gospel. We need to seek wisdom in our lives in order to prepare for the time when God calls us to his heavenly banquet. It has been awhile since we heard from Wisdom, so let’s review. This book is not part of the Hebrew Masoretic collection but is included in the Septuagint manuscript; there, it is known as the Wisdom of Solomon and is included in the apocryphal (meaning “hidden” and referring to books written between 200BC and 400AD) section of the manuscript. Remember, there are seven books in the Catholic Bible (Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, 1 + 2 Maccabees and Wisdom, as well as certain sections of Esther, Daniel and Baruch) that are not included in the Masoretic text or the official canon of the Protestant Bible. There is no scholarly consensus as to when the Hebrew Scriptures canon was finally established; it’s thought to be somewhere between the fourth and the first century BC. The Catholic Bible canon was determined at the Council of Rome in 382AD; this included most of the deuterocanonical books.
The Book of Wisdom is the name given to this book in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible completed in 405BC. Most probably originally written in Greek, not Hebrew, somewhere between 100 – 50BC, probably in Alexandria, Egypt – one of the largest centers of the Jewish Diaspora – by an anonymous author. It is evident that the author was a devout, Greek-speaking Jew, acquainted with Greek philosophy and culture, probably a native of Alexandria. The purpose of the author was to strengthen the faith of his fellow Jews in Alexandria who were living in the midst of pagans who were enthralled by the latest scientific discoveries and the cosmopolitan society of this great city.
The section we will hear from on Sunday is taken from an exhortation to seek wisdom (6:1 – 21). It is from the first part of this book and is a call to seek wisdom for all the good she (wisdom) offers those who love her. The author’s particular concern was to help the Jewish people appreciate the wisdom of their tradition as they encountered the Greek culture. As you know, the Greeks at that time prided themselves in their wisdom. We can use it today to help us recognize the eternal wisdom God offers us in the face of the so-called wisdom of secularism, individualism, materialism and humanism that we encounter in our culture. The passage begins with a promise that God’s wisdom is unfading, that is, everlasting – unlike the passing fads of the day. It is also available to anyone who seeks it.
12 Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.
Wisdom: wisdom is personified – cf. 1:6-7; 6:22-23; 7:7-14; Prv 1:20-33; 8:1-36; 9:1-6; Job 28; Baruch 3:9-4:4; Sir 24:1-21. It is not understood as a person separate from God but a literary personification of one of God’s attributes. Such personification is common in the OT (e.g., Spirit, Word and Justice). Wisdom is identified with the spirit of the Lord; we could see it today as an indirect reference to the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that wisdom is spoken of in the feminine voice. This is remarkable at a time when women were held in such low esteem and demonstrates God’s revelation evident even despite our short-sightedness.
she is readily perceived: recall Moses’ admonition to his people in Deuteronomy 30:11 – 14.
13 She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of men’s desire;
14 he who watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
15 For taking thought of her is the perfection of prudence, and he who for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care;
16 Because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.
seeking those worthy of her: like God himself, who has made himself known to all who long for him, wisdom seeks those who long for her. It is this kind of wisdom that leads us to live as children of the light; this leads us directly into our gospel message.
Matthew 25: 1 – 13
This week, we continue to hear from Matthew’s Gospel. You will recall that, for several weeks, we have heard about a tension-filled encounter that Jesus has with the Jewish leaders of his day in Jerusalem. We hear Jesus condemn them over and over again and they, in response, try to trap him with misleading questions. Two weeks ago, in response to the question about the greatest commandment, we heard Jesus combine the love of God with the love of neighbor, countering the practice by some of the scribes and Pharisees of caring only for themselves. This angry interchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders ends with Jesus shutting up the Jewish leaders with his own questions (cf. Mt. 22:41 – 46): “What is your opinion about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” And, after he answers it for them, we read that “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” This is followed by Jesus denouncing the scribes and Pharisees with a litany of woes (cf. Mt. 23) and his foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man (cf. Mt. 24: 1 – 31). Next, we hear the powerful and sobering parable of the ten virgins; this parable is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. In this parable, we see the most remarkable combination of a lovely scene – a wedding celebration – with a tragic end. The point of the parable is foresight, not vigilance, since all the virgins sleep – only five are ready. It is a most fitting reading that prepares us for the end of the liturgical year, which foreshadows the end of time. To understand it better, we want to read Mt 7:21-23 and 24 – 28 as well as 4:16 and 5:14 – 16.
It is with all of this background that Sunday’s reading makes sense; let’s examine it.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Then: at the time of the parousia. Kingdom . . . will be like: see the note on Matthew 13:24-30; the “kingdom of heaven” does not refer only to the ten virgins but the entire story.
went out to meet the bridegroom: We do not have good, detailed information about wedding practices in Israel at this time. There was apparently a solemn procession from the home of the bride to the home of the groom. The symbolic act of marriage included the groom taking the bride from her father’s house to his house.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Foolish . . . wise: if you look in your footnotes, you will see that we are referred to the contrasted “wise man” and “fool” of Matthew 7:24,26 where the two are distinguished by good deeds and lack of them, and such deeds may be signified by the oil of this parable.
3 The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them,
4 but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
5 Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
bridegroom was long delayed: Weddings took place at night so as not to interfere with the workday. Unlike today, there was probably no set time for the groom to come, so he came when he was ready.
6 At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
10 While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
the door was locked: the closing and barring of the house door was not a simple task, and it was not opened again until dawn except in the case of genuine emergency, so the guests who arrived late could not reasonably expect to be admitted.
11 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
Lord, Lord: cf. Matthew 7:21.
12 But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
I do not know you: cf. Matthew 7:23 where the Greek verb is different but synonymous.
13 Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Stay awake: some scholars see this command as an addition to the original parable of Matthew’s traditional material, since in Matthew 25:5 all the virgins, wise and foolish, fall asleep. But the wise virgins are adequately equipped for their task, and stay awake may mean no more than to be prepared; cf. Matthew 24:42, 44.
The comparison of the kingdom of heaven with a wedding feast is found throughout Matthew (cf. 9:15; 22:1-14) and even the rest of the Bible. It was for the people of the day a very good image because it was, for many of them, one of the few times that they could rest from their labors and enjoy the company of family and friends and have plenty to eat. Jesus uses this image to call his followers to be prepared and to accept the invitation when the time comes; it’s an important admonition for us, as well.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18
We hear again from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul arrived in Thessalonica in 50AD. Despite his short stay in Thessalonica, the Christian community thrived and retained a very cordial relationship with Paul. We continue to hear from this letter this Sunday. It is an appropriate addendum to this Sunday’s Gospel because it speaks of those who have died.
13 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
those who have fallen asleep: The Christian dead. Death is spoken of as sleep even in pagan literature, as well as in the OT (cf. Gn. 47:30; Dt. 31:16, etc.). It is, perhaps, just a gentler way to speak of death, similar to our saying that someone has passed away. For us Christians, however, it takes on a totally different meaning due to our hope in the resurrection (cf. Mt 9:24; Act 7:60; 1 Cor 15:18, 20, 51, etc.).
so that you may not grieve: we need not grieve because, unlike those who do not believe in the resurrection, we are blessed to have that hope in the resurrection.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
if we believe: this is an important condition; we must believe.
15 Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.
Coming of the Lord: Paul here assumes that the second coming, or parousia, will occur within his own lifetime but insists that the time or season is unknown (1 Thes 5:1-2). Nevertheless, the most important aspect of the parousia for him was the fulfillment of union with Christ. His pastoral exhortation focuses first on hope for the departed faithful, then (1 Thes 5:1-3) on the need of preparedness for those who have to achieve their goal.
16 For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Will be caught up together: literally, snatched up, carried off; cf. 2 Cor 12:2; Rev 12:5. From the Latin verb here used, rapiemur, has come the idea of “the rapture,” when believers will be transported away from the woes of the world. This construction combines this verse with Matthew 24:40-41 (see the note there), Luke 17:34-35 and passages from Revelation in a scheme of millennial dispensationalism.
18 Therefore, console one another with these words.
We seek many things in this life, but we should seek first the Lord and his wisdom and make sure that we act on his command to love God and neighbor. By doing so, we will live in vigilance for the Lord as we await his return in glory. As I mentioned above, Jesus often uses the image of a wedding feast when speaking of the kingdom of heaven to call his followers to be prepared and to accept the invitation when the time comes; it’s an important admonition for us, as well.