Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time. Have you ever been awakened by an awareness of God’s presence in your life?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflections November 12 2023 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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.
In just two weeks, we will celebrate the Feast of Christ the King and this liturgical year will end. As the liturgical year ends, the Church selects readings that will help us focus on the coming reign of God. Throughout scripture, light, oil, and lamps are used as symbols for the word of God. A wedding banquet is also a familiar symbol for the great celebration that awaits at the final establishment of the total and complete reign of God.
The parable of the ten virgins is told with an understanding of the typical wedding of the day in mind. At the time when this parable was being told by Jesus, retold by the early Christians, and finally recorded as part of the Gospels, a wedding usually unfolded in stages. The families arranged the marriage, often while the groom and bride-to-be were still young. With the betrothal, the couple was technically married, but each continued to live with their own families. Finally, when all the financial matters were worked out between the two families, the groom then went to take the bride into his home, to consummate the wedding, and for them to begin to live as husband and wife. This is when the celebration would begin. The virgins in the Gospel were most likely part of the bridal procession, waiting for the arrival of the groom and standing as witnesses to the consummation of the marriage. When the groom would arrive, it was not uncommon to try and catch those waiting napping.
For the early Christians, as they tell this parable from their perspective, the wedding banquet becomes a symbol of what God is preparing for the faithful at the end of time. Jesus himself had used the wedding banquet as a symbol of the end time fulfillment. Hence, the bridesmaids wait in darkness, without knowing when the groom will finally appear. Lastly, when the groom does appear, a separation occurs between the faithful and foolish bridesmaids.
The parable stresses the point that it is their preparedness that separates the wise from the foolish. Both the wise and the foolish have been invited to keep vigil, both have brought their lamps, both have fallen asleep. The only thing that separates them is the fact that the wise have made adequate preparations. When you take note that the wise did not give of their surplus oil to the foolish, this suggests that whatever it is that one must do to be prepared for the coming is not something that one person can do for another or that can be borrowed. Everyone must make his or her own preparations.
- What are some of the things you did to prepare for the last wedding that you attended?
- How is this parable like others parables told about the kingdom God? How is it different?
- In the parable, all the virgins are said to have fallen asleep. How do you relate to that part of this parable?
- Have you ever been awakened by an awareness of God’s presence in your life?
- In a similar way, have there been times when you were asleep to the presence of God?
- Have you ever acted with a sense that there may not be enough? Where does that sense come from?
- By sending the “foolish” away to purchase oil for themselves, they are not able to continue their vigil or share in the celebration. Do you experience a sadness for them not being able to part of the community?
- Can you talk to God about whatever this parable is awakening within you or perhaps you desire to have God awaken some aspect of your relationship with God or those around you?