Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

November 12, 2017


“Oil is found in the dwellings of the wise’; says Proverbs 21:20. Job 28:28 tells us ’the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom’, or, ’the beginning of wisdom’, according to Psalm 111:10.  ‘Fear of the Lord’ here is not a slavish fear, a fear of punishment, but a ‘WoW’ fear, wonder of wonders, filled with awe and astonishment.  A mix of awe-some and awe-full, as in ‘full of awe’.  Faced with the presence of the Holy, the presence of God, we are overwhelmed with this mystery which makes us tremble.  We are also thrown back on our own absolute nothingness, mortality, and poverty.  This is the ‘fear’ that is the beginning of wisdom, of genuine wakefulness.

Our gospel today tells the story of ‘Ten Bridesmaids’. ’Five of them were foolish, and five were wise’. All ten of them were part of the wedding party, all ten had lamps, all ten fell asleep waiting for the delayed bridegroom.  It seems that they are all insiders.  And yet there is a division, a separation.  Not between the servant leaders and the hypocrites, like last week, or between those who invested and those who hoarded their talents, the gospel for next week, or, the classic separation of the goats from the sheep, the gospel in two weeks.  The gospels in these last weeks of Ordinary Time make us ready for Advent. They are full of sifting, discerning, and separating.

What is it that separates the wise from the foolish bridesmaids?  They are all waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, all eager to accompany him in the bridal procession, to greet the bride and celebrate the wedding feast.  But the bridegroom comes at midnight, the dark time, least expected.  The wise bridesmaids are prepared, they have oil for their lamps.  The foolish bridesmaids are not prepared.  They have lamps, but they have no oil for their lamps, no fuel, no source of energy to light their way in the late night wedding procession.

Preparation and oil are the characteristics of wisdom in this parable.  What does it mean to be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom?  What does it mean to be prepared for the coming of Christ, the anointed one, the one on whom the oil of Chrism has been poured, the one who is the oil of Chrism.?  Advent is almost upon us, we need to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Bridegroom, Messiah Jesus.  Whether he comes to us in the Incarnation, at the end of time, at the hour of our death, in unforeseen suffering, or in the astonishment of wonder, it is foolish not to be prepared, it is wisdom to be prepared.

So, what is wisdom?  The scriptures tell us variously, that wisdom is more precious than jewels or fine gold, that those who understand wisdom ‘fear God’, ‘depart from evil’, and get wisdom without counting the cost.  The book of Wisdom tells us today that wisdom is waiting for us at the gate, in the midst of everyday life.  That wisdom is looking for us as much as we are looking for her.  So how does one get wisdom?  We know that having wisdom is not like having other things.  That the minute we think we are wise, we are furthest from it. ’Be not wise in your own eyes’, says St. Paul.  The Greek philosopher Pythagoras said, ’Only the gods are wise, the best human beings can hope for is to be ’lovers of wisdom’.  Perhaps it is because of this association with ‘philosophy’ that we tend to think of wisdom as something difficult, esoteric, and rare.  We associate it with old age and long experience, something in the distance, ahead of us, obtainable only after a long arduous journey.  We associate it with, a wisdom quest, a pilgrimage, a retreat.  And yet our reading from Wisdom tells us that wisdom, ’is easily discerned by those who love her’, is ’found by those who seek her’.  That wisdom, ’hastens to make herself known to those who desire her’.

When it comes to wisdom, when it comes to the whole life of faith.  It really is all about desire.  Look at the keywords from the book of Wisdom; ’seek her’, ’love her’, ’desire her’, be ’vigilant in on her account’.  None of us can claim wisdom for ourselves, but all of us can ’seek’ and ‘desire’, to ’love’ wisdom, and to be attentive in this regard. Also,  wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit given to each one of us in Confirmation.  Before we ever go in search of her she is already given.  Listen to some other key phrases from our first reading.  Wisdom, ’hastens to make herself known’, ’is easily discerned’, is ’seeking those worthy of her’, and ’meets them in every thought’.  The oil for our lamps is a gift, so is the fire to light our lamps, so is the Bridegroom, so is the Bride. Let us enter the wedding feast with joyful anticipation. Our Lamps burning bright in the light of His Face.