The theme of time weaves its way throughout the readings for the thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the gospel, Jesus begins one of his last parables by saying, "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins..." suggesting that he speaks of a time yet to come or a process not yet complete. So much time has passed since he began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of G-d has come near. After this, he has time only for two more parables before he celebrates his last Passover with his friends. He needs us to understand now.
"The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom."
Why ten virgins, we wonder. The number ten suggests something complete—a set, whole. The ten have but one task, though—one shared task—to light the way for the bridegroom. He has need of them; without light, how can he make his way to the wedding feast? How can the wedding ever take place? Love and joy have to wait. The ten virgins' task is vital.
The ten act as one.
Together as one they become drowsy and fall asleep.
Together as one they get up when the cry comes at midnight,
and together as one person they trim their lamps.
The ten virgins together share the one task, but something divides the set.
"Five of them are foolish and five are wise."
Virginity recalls an earlier time—a primordial innocence.
Wise innocence—this suggests detachment—someone untouched by the world—who sees life the way G-d sees it. The wise innocent observes reality but remains unsullied.
Foolish innocence, though—this smells of naiveté. Not untouched, but rather out-of-touch with reality.
"At midnight, there is a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'”
The time arrives for action. Midnight in the Bible evokes an urgency. No one travels at the darkness hour otherwise. This is the moment—there is a ripeness, an expectancy about it.
But only half of the whole is ready. Only half have the oil to fuel the task. Only half can give the bridegroom what he needs. The wise innocents see the way with him into the wedding feast.
"Then the door is locked.
Afterwards the other virgins come and say,
'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'
But he says in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'"
And in that moment, we realize this parable is all about knowing. Our hearts wrench hearing those words. We do not want to hear them spoken to us. We do not want to see his face as he closes the door in ours. We do not want to be the foolish virgins.
And this is exactly what Jesus needs us to realize. He needs us to get in touch with that desire. The desire to know and be known. We want to be wise. We want wisdom.
And the good news? We hear in the first reading for this Sunday:
Resplendent and unfading is wisdom,
and she is readily perceived by those who love her,
and found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire;
And so, when we awaken to this desire, when we act upon this need—the bridegroom's need—what will we find?
Whoever watches for wisdom at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
But how will wisdom give us the oil to fuel our task, to make us ready to serve him at midnight, at the crucial moment when he calls us to action?
We turn to our psalmist, who knows her desire for G-d as a thirst:
O G-d, you are my G-d whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts...
She fuels her desire by:
gazing on G-d in the sanctuary,
to see the Lord's power and glory.
Her lips glorify G-d.
She embraces her desire in all moments of the day,
lifting up her hands, calling upon the name of the Lord.
She knows, as we know, that this desire lights the way for the bridegroom and
as with the riches of a banquet shall her soul be satisfied.
From dawn to midnight and
through the night-watches, she will meditate on G-d.
For G-d is her help, and in the shadow of G-d's wings, she shouts for joy.
Her life becomes prayer. Her prayer gives her life.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
at one time divided,
but at midnight, when he comes, we light his way because we know him and he knows us.
And he shuts the door on all the foolish moments, all the time we wasted—I do not know you—those times are past.
Now complete, now whole, we accompany him into the feast where together we celebrate everlasting love and unending joy.
Paula Rush is a catechist with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd—an approach to faith formation for children. She writes a blog, “The Better Part”—three weekly Sunday Gospel reflections for children ages 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12, and records these as a podcast. She serves as a chaplain at a Catholic high school in Waterloo, Ontario, where she lives with her husband and five children. Currently, she pursues a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies with an emphasis in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd through the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, MO.
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