‘Stay Awake,’ Do the Will of the Father and Engage in Good Works

User’s Guide to Sunday, Nov. 8

‘… a Christian should be vigilant …. Do not grow slack. Live in prudence …’
‘… a Christian should be vigilant …. Do not grow slack. Live in prudence …’ (photo: Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash)

Sunday, Nov. 8, is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.

The Gospel today tells us the story of the wise and the foolish virgins. Ten in all, they prepare for the arrival of the bridegroom to his own wedding feast. The virgins’ task was to keep a light on, for night had already fallen. The newlyweds would need the light for guidance and safety, but no one knew exactly when the wedding party would arrive. 

This uncertainty of the coming of the kingdom is a common theme in St. Matthew’s Gospel and was a major concern of the early Christians. In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, that Christian community feared that those who had died before the second coming would not enjoy all the benefits of salvation. St. Paul assures them, though, that their lost loved ones will indeed rise from the dead. “Thus we,” the living and the faithful departed, “shall always be with the Lord.” Do not worry, St. Paul says. Still, just a few verses after today’s reading, he warns them to be aware, for “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:2). And it is night as we return to our wise and foolish virgins.

Now, the five wise virgins, enjoying the gift of prudence mentioned in today’s first reading, took with them extra oil with which to keep their lamps lit throughout the night. The foolish virgins took no such oil, counting on the wedding party’s immanent arrival. But the bridegroom and his party are delayed. It is midnight when word finally arrives of their coming near. The foolish virgins have run out of oil and beg the wise for some of theirs, but they are denied and are sent away to purchase more. Then, the wise virgins join the wedding party and shut the foolish ones out. The bridegroom, who is quite clearly Jesus, tells the foolish, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” 

The first lesson is: “Stay awake.” That is, a Christian should be vigilant over his or her own soul. Do not grow slack. Live in prudence, and we shall enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven. But what exactly does it mean to live in prudence, or, as the parable suggests, to be prepared with extra oil? 

As St. Matthew’s Gospel points out in other places, doing the will of the Father and engaging in good works for our neighbor are required. In Chapter 7 of this Gospel, Our Lord says that those who cry, “Lord, Lord” but do not actually do what is asked of them will be told, “I never knew you” (21-23), which is exactly what happens to the foolish virgins here.

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus says that it is not good enough just to know the law or to speak of the law. Rather, to be prepared for the coming of the kingdom of heaven and avoid being like the foolish virgins, we must live in fidelity to the Father today, performing the good works our neighbor needs from us. This theme will be repeated for the next two Sundays as we come to the end of the liturgical year and contemplate the Final Judgment.