The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 8 November 2020
Lectionary Readings: Wis 6: 12-16; Ps 63:2-8; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13
Theme: “The wise took flasks of oil.”
This Sunday’s gospel is one where the usual translations have led us astray in a couple of places. One is the word ‘lamps’ which brings to mind the small lamps with a handle at one end and a spout at the other to hold the wick. These would not be much good for lighting up an outdoor wedding procession. We should imagine torches, flaming against the night sky (Byrne, 187). And, as we know, we need to imagine only five such torches, those of the ‘wise’ bridesmaids. The ‘foolish’ bridesmaids did not bring flasks of oil, so that when the bridegroom was delayed, their torches had gone out. ‘Wise’ is the other misleading translation. The women who bring extra oil are ‘phronimoi’ or ‘thoughtful’. They both ‘think ahead’ – “What if there is some delay and we run out of oil?” – and ‘think about’ – “Ifwe run out of oil, it will spoil the celebration for the groom, and we must not let that happen.” This is a way of thinking which is as much about the heart, and about concern for others, as it is about the mind. Remember the times when you said to someone: “This is so thoughtful of you.” It is usually because they have shown you some unexpected act of kindness or ‘gone the extra mile’.
It does, however, seem harsh that the five women who did not plan for a delay but who nonetheless got dressed up and brought their torches are turned away from the banquet. The delay was not their fault and if it had not happened they would have carried out their duties adequately. Yet when the bridegroom forbids them entrance to the banquet he does not comment directly on the performance of their duties. He speaks what R.F. Capon calls: “The dreadful sentence, ‘Amen, I say to you, I never knew you.’” Capon continues: “This is simply the truth of their condition. He does not say, ‘I never called you.’ He does not say, ‘I never loved you.’ He does not say, ‘I never drew you to myself.’ He only says, ‘I never knew you—because you never bothered to know me.’” (Capon, 500)
The bridesmaids who are turned away from the wedding banquet simply went through the motions. They were not ‘thoughtful’; they did not put their hearts into what they had been called to do. They seem to have considered their role as bridesmaids as no more than an opportunity to go to a party. They did not take seriously the claim the bridegroom had on them. And so they do not really have a relationship with him. They do not know him and he does not know them.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Think about the times you have caught yourself ‘going through the motions’. 2. When you encounter an unexpected delay or demand, what is your flask of oil that enables you to deal with it?
Bibliography: Byrne, Brendan, Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today (Collegeville MN, 2004); Capon, Robert Farrar, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids MI: 2002).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada Bat Kol Alumna: 2010