The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time||November 6, 2005|
In order for us to reflect with the greatest benefit on todays Gospel, I think its important for us to remind ourselves of the context in which this particular lesson is proclaimed. If you remember the last few weeks in the Gospel lessons, Jesus has been in situations of confrontation and hostility. Its the last week of his life, and he started that week by going into the temple and knocking over the tables and throwing out the money changers and declaring, Dont make the house of God a den of thieves! The religious leaders were very upset with him and so then began these confrontations: they tried to trap him in his speech, they tried get him concerned about what was the greatest law among the 613 and so on. Last Sunday Jesus lashed out at them calling them hypocrites, condemning them powerfully. But today, everything is switched around. Instead of the adversaries of Jesus being present, we hear a story that Jesus tells thats for our benefit. Jesus has decided, it seems, to take the last day or two of his life to try to draw together his community of disciples and give them some final guidance on how to live as his community when hes gone.
This is the first part of what he tells us. For us to reflect on this story or parable, we have to have an understanding of how a huge wedding feast took place. The first readers of this Gospel would have been very familiar with this. This is what was happening: The bridesmaids left the grooms house and traveled part way to meet him as he returned from the brides house where he would have been carrying out the final negotiations with the brides father over the dowry and whatever arrangements would be made for the daughter to be handed over. The groom with his future wife would have been traveling back to his house where the wedding would take place. These bridesmaids went out to welcome the groom and the bride and to lead them back into the home for the big celebration. Well, as you hear in the story, some of them were wise and some were foolish. The wise ones had extra oil and so they were ready after a long delay. They could lead the procession back to the house for the wedding. The others -- the foolish ones -- were left behind and when they finally arrive at the house, they find the doors closed. When they cry out, Lord, Lord! the Lord says, I dont know you. Very ominous and frightening words. Imagine God saying, I dont know you.
Right away, I think, many of us would say this story is about the last judgment and some might be afraid that as we arrive, ready to enter into the reign of God or the kingdom of God at the end of the world, God might say, I dont know you. But its not about that really at all. The kingdom of God is not something thats going to happen at the end of time. We must keep reminding ourselves what Jesus said at the beginning of his public life, The reign of God is at hand right now. Now is the moment when you can enter into the reign of God, not at the end of time -- the final judgment where you make it or you dont. The invitation is for right now. The reign of God is here. Its here! Its up to us to enter in to it and let the reign of God become where we live our lives. This story, then, is really giving us guidance on how to enter into the reign of God right now by being wise. Being wise, not foolish.
This wisdom that Jesus is talking about is not simply being clever or knowing things that other people dont know. Its the very wisdom of God. Were called to try to embrace a wisdom that is totally different, that totally transcends what we might call human wisdom. Saint Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth gives us a sense of what this means and what Jesus is really asking or urging us to do, to accept this wisdom of God. Paul describes the most radical part of it when he says, Jesus did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the good news, the Gospel. And not with beautiful words. That would be like getting rid of the cross of Christ. The language of the cross remains nonsense for those who are not believers. Yet for us who are believers, it is the very power of God. A little further on Paul says, And so here am I preaching Christ crucified. That is nonsense to the so-called wise people of this world, but to believers it is the very wisdom of God. Why is it nonsense? Well when Paul says, I have to preach a crucified Christ, hes preaching a Christ who rejected violence, who rejected hatred, who rejected vengeance. A Christ who carried out what he had preached: Love your enemy. A Christ who prayed for the very ones putting him to death and loving them right up until the moment he died.
To most people that is nonsense. But it is the core message of Jesus.
Paul says, Thats what I have to preach. And to the Jews its a scandal. To the Greeks -- to the so-called wise people -- its foolishness. But then Paul tells us, But remember that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. That is only true if we really believe, really accept Jesus for all that he was and all that he spoke about and all that he taught us. Its a very hard lesson.
Its a very difficult message, and over and over we find ourselves rejecting it. Individually and as a nation, we really dont seem to understand this wisdom of God and accept it. I guess I should say that I think we understand it. We understand what Jesus is saying, but we find ourselves not really able to take it in and say, Yes, I will never give in to violence, never! Yet thats what Paul says, I have to preach Christ crucified. This is the wisdom of God, and only if we accept this wisdom do we enter into the reign of God. Right now.
What is the reign of God? Well it means our being able to be fully alive as a human person. You know, I guess, if you wanted to put it in specifics, you could say for a hungry person the reign of God means food. For someone whos starving it would mean food. For someone whos thirsty it would mean drink. For someone whos lonely it means love and friendship. The reign of God is when we become fully alive in all of our humanness and the fullness of the reign of God will happen at some point where every one of us will be fully alive and all of creation will come to its fulfillment.
But right now in our everyday life, we can begin to live this reign of God, enter in to it and experience all the blessings of becoming as fully alive as possible right now -- the blessings of the peace and the joy and the deep spirit of happiness that this will bring to us. It could happen, but we need this wisdom of God in its most radical form.
I also suggest that there are other places in the Gospels where Jesus reminds us of what else the wisdom of God says to us. Maybe the most challenging after that of loving even your enemy is where Jesus speaks to us about our relationship with material goods. We live in a culture where material goods are glorified. Were urged to accumulate them. They will make us happy somehow. But Jesus says you cannot at the same time serve God and money. You cannot serve God and money. We cant be committed to this culture in which we live and follow it, if we really want to learn or really want to serve God, be one with God.
Human wisdom, I guess, in the culture in which we live keeps telling us that we need more and more. Jesus tells us: This is why I tell you not to be worried about food and drink for yourself or about clothes for your body. Is not life more important than food and is not the body more important than clothes. Look at the birds in the air. They do not sow. They do not harvest. They do not store food in barns and yet God feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? Which of you can add a day to your life by worrying about it? Why are you so worried about your clothes? Look at the flowers in the fields. See how they grow. They do not toil or spin, but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his wealth was clothed like one of these. If God so clothed the grass in the field, which blooms today and tomorrow is burned in an oven, how much more will God cloth you, oh you of little faith? Or today we might say, Oh you of little wisdom.
The way of God tells us we dont need all those extra things if we live with moderation and simplicity we would begin to enter into the reign of God much more fully and deeply.
Finally the wisdom of God urges us to follow the values that Jesus teaches. The first two Ive already pointed out but Im thinking of the other values, the beatitudes -- the hunger and thirst for justice, to try to make things right in this world; be gentle, compassionate, grieve for those who are grieving, be a peacemaker all of those values that Jesus set forth so clearly, all of this is the wisdom of God.
In todays Gospel Jesus tells us that we can enter into that reign of God if only we have wisdom. But to give us further reassurance that we dont have to do it alone I remind you again of our first lesson: Wisdom is luminous. It never tarnishes. She willingly lets herself be seen by those who love her. If we begin to love this wisdom well discover it. She hastens to meet those who long for her. If we really long for this wisdom it will come to us. She goes in search for those who are worthy and graciously meets them on the way and is present in their every thought. What we need to do, is simply open ourselves. Wisdom, who is really God, is seeking each of us and will take us and enable us to enter into the reign of God right now. That wisdom of God is waiting, is seeking each of us. We pray today that we will have open hearts, open minds and be ready to receive Gods wisdom and at this moment begin to live more fully in the reign of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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