Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A:
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16
Characteristics of Wisdom in the OT
Human Heart’s Longing for God.
Reading: 1 Thessalonians
4:13-18 (shorter form: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
The Dead Will Be Raised Back to Life.
The Parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish virgins
Background to the Readings and the Homily
The theme of the liturgy of the word today is Divine Wisdom as expounded in the first reading as well as in the gospel.
The Book of Wisdom found only in the Greek Bible and therefore, only in the Catholic Bible (not in Protestant Bibles) has three main themes. They are: The Reward of Righteousness (1:1- 6:21), Praise of Wisdom by Solomon (6:22 – 11:1) and the Special Acts of Divine Providence and Mercy During the Exodus (11:2 – 19:22). Today’s first reading is found under the first theme of Rewards of Righteousness. But this first section is already anticipating the theme of the second theme, namely, the Characteristics of Wisdom.
How did the people in the Ancient Near east (ANE) understand Wisdom? The central concept of Egyptian Wisdom was called MAAT which was the goddess of wisdom in the Egyptian pantheon. Maat is the Divinely established order/harmony, truth, justice. Wise man must live according to this divinely established order (= maat). Man’s life must correspond to MAAT. Wo/man who abides by justice and truth will have life. Israelite concept of wisdom is parallel to this. Wisdom is perceiving the principles or laws operative in nature and human life. These are laws established by the creator to have order and harmony in life and creation. (// Maat). Wisdom tries to understand these laws and applies them to various life situations. The moral, social and religious orders are only participations in the fundamental cosmic harmony. It was not merely a theoretical / speculative one. It was how one lives one’s life in uprightness, virtue, and prudence. (// ANE). He knows what he should and should not do in various situations (called in French savoir faire, savoir vivre–knowing how to do and to live.
Today’s first reading describes the nature of wisdom with some adjectives. It began saying in verse 12, “Wisdom is brilliant and unfading.” These two adjectives describing wisdom are extremely important. The word brilliant in Greek is lampra. Have you heard of the Lampra Moth, night insect with bright bulb-like eyes? It is strongly attracted to the light and in that process the predators devour it. The second adjective is unfading, in Greek amaranthos made up of two words amar + anthos, meaning, ‘Eternal Flower.’ Have you seen or do you have in your garden these the reddish rose bunches of Amaranth flowers? They are called so because they last long. In the same way, wisdom is brightly luminous. It shows the way to life. It is opposed to darkness and ignorance. It is life-giving leading to immortality. Its effects are lasting. It cannot be destroyed unless one decides to reject it and opt for folly. Wisdom takes the initiative and seeks out to the righteous people. Wisdom desires them. Righteous people in turn love her. It is a mutual relationship. Those who seek her meditate on her and will live. They will be free from many burdens because prudence saves them from trouble.
Today’s gospel speaks of ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. The wises ones were led by savoire faire through savoire vivre. They were prudent. They knew the art of circumventing trouble. They were like the diligent and non-idling ants about whom the Book of Proverbs 6:6-11 spoke saying. “Idler, go to the ant; ponder her ways and grow wise: no one gives her orders, no overseer, no master, yet all through the summer she gets her food ready, and gathers her supplies at harvest time. How long do you intend to lie there, idler? When are you going to rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little drowsiness, a little folding of the arms to lie back, and poverty comes like a vagrant and, like a beggar, dearth.” Prudence is one important aspects of practical wisdom. Learning a trade and diligently practicing the same is another aspect of this practical wisdom. Living a good ethical life of harmony where one is well related to others, society and oneself is another aspect of wisdom. But this ethic is not for its own sake. It is an ethic related to God. The most important aspect of biblical wisdom is how one is related to God. Over and over, wisdom books in OT, the Book of Sirach said 24 x that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. What was meant by these words “Fear the Lord?” This fear is not scare. It is not trembling due to being punished
In the American Commentary on the Old Testament, George R. Berry says that the fear of the Lord has a religious element. It is affectionate. It is a reverential fear of doing the wrong thing. God’s followers respect him because they are aware of what is right and wrong. As believers, we do only things that are pleasing to Him. A child of God bows before his Father humbly in reverence to his Father’s will enshrined in the law.” With this reverential fear, we learn how to act or speak.
Ours is not a God-fearing society. For it is a Godless civilization which pretends not to want God. As a result, there is moral decadence. Everyone does what s/he wants. Our consciences have been made blunt and dull. We have thrown away wisdom and have begun to worship folly. The world together with the humanity and the rest of creation is going in the drain of destruction. Is Sodom and Gomorrah back? Giving into folly, are we calling for another deluge to purify the world? Covid 19 may be an instrument in the hands of God to call humanity to wisdom.