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;
Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his
For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence,
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
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.
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
about those who have fallen asleep,
so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose,
so too will God, through Jesus,
bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
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.
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.
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.
Therefore, console one another with these words.
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
'Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.'
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.'
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.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'
But he said in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour."
Obviously today’s Wisdom pericope can only be understood by those who appreciate poetry.
I often remind my students that the Bible isn’t a book; it’s a library, a collection of books, composed by various authors over more than 1,200 years, frequently written in different genres. If we don’t know the type of literature with which we’re dealing, we can’t interpret the sacred author correctly. That’s why we have to fall back on Scripture scholars for help. Unless we actually lived during the biblical period, many of the genres the authors employed will be “foreign” to us. Though I presume almost no one alive today will confuse the Cartoon Network with the History Channel, we’re not that skilled in ancient genres.
Like all poets, the Wisdom author personifies “things” we don’t literally encounter as persons. In this case, he/she turns a movement into beautiful woman. “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” Biblical wisdom is the quest to surface Yahweh’s patterns of behavior in our everyday lives. If we’re convinced God’s present in everyone we meet and everything we stumble upon, then we must be able to learn something about God from each of those encounters. We simply have to be open to surfacing what God’s trying to tell us. In other words, a lifetime quest “to keep vigil for her.”
The gospel Jesus’ use of parables is a different genre than the poetry used in some Wisdom literature, yet it does emphasize the day by day situations we all experience. A parable isn’t just a story with a lesson. It tricks listeners into admitting what they reject on one level, they’re already accepting on another level. This is especially true when Jesus talks about God’s kingdom. For instance, though we have problems with the slow pace in which God effectively works in our everyday lives, no one complains about seeds in the field taking a very long time to grow. If we accept slowness on one level, we also have to accept it on a different level.
Today’s parable zeroes in on always being prepared for God breaking into our lives. Waiting for a bridegroom to return home from his in-laws’ house to consummate his marriage with his new wife is something everyone in Jesus’ day and age takes for granted. Those who don’t bring extra oil for their lamps will eventually find themselves “out in the dark.” (By the way, candles, as we know them, weren’t invented until more than a century after Jesus’ birth. Using them instead of oil lamps in Scripture would be a classic anachronism.) What holds true for expectant wedding guests also holds true for being prepared to surface the risen Jesus. We “know neither the day nor the hour.” If we’re not prepared for his/her breaking into our everyday experiences, we’ll never know it happens.
Of course, we can’t forget the main thing Jesus’ first disciples were expecting never happened, at least not in the way they were expecting. It would seem Paul’s recently evangelized converts in Thessalonica were under the impression no one would die before Jesus returned in the Second Coming. But these exemplary Christians eventually discovered not only was Jesus’ Parousia delayed, but also Christians began to die.
Will these unfortunate individuals miss out on the goodies they’re expecting to receive when Jesus returns, or will they just be at the end of the line when they’re being distributed? “Neither,” Paul says. They’ll be the first to go with the risen Jesus.
Waiting helps us see reality from different perspectives . . . as long as we have enough oil for our lamps.