Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Wis 6:12-16; 1Thes 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
8 November 2020
Keep your lamp of faith burning
Dear sisters and brothers,
We are approaching the end of the liturgical year. The scriptures for this period often use apocalyptic language and imagery to describe God’s judgment on the world. But the apocalypse is not doom and gloom for those who believe. Rather, it is a time of purposeful discernment and intentional discipleship. Crisis awakes in the disciples a sense of deep listening that leads to faithfulness to God’s will and courageous action. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our Christian hope that St Paul speaks about in his letter to the Thessalonians.
Our world may not be spinning out of control and the end time may not be imminent. However, this year 2020 has seen a fair share of chaos, division, and uncertainty. In the wake of the pandemic and the polarised American election, we believers are called more than ever to discern and act with wisdom, integrity, and truth. It is more important than ever that we do not lose sight of our calling, which is to actively prepare for the coming of the Kingdom and not fall victim to apathy, indifference, and complacency.
The first reading exhorts believers to acquire the gift of wisdom. In a poetic fashion, the author compares wisdom to a faithful companion. She will make herself known to those who desire her. Those who seek wisdom will find her at the gates, that is, they will make the right judgments. All the while, it is the wisdom that enables us to align our hearts and minds to God’s purposes.
It is no accident that the early Christian community saw in Jesus the Divine Wisdom personified. He is the manifestation of the wisdom of God who taught us how to transform our lives and relationships through a new consciousness. The disciples must change their default conventional wisdom into the wisdom of the cross, based on self-emptying love. In Jesus, we have a model of living life to the full, in service of others. In Him, an alternative consciousness and mode of living is possible that will enable us to be the light of the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the Parable of the Bridesmaids to remind his disciples of the need to be alert and responsive. It is a kind of spiritual sensitivity and vigilance that allows us to discern God’s presence and action in the world and to make a faithful response to it. The parable stresses the element of waiting in the dark of night as a symbol of transition. Night is a liminal interval, a time in which one stands between the old and the new. We must learn to listen in silence and stillness in order to discern and act according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Activism without mysticism is empty of the spiritual dimension.
The parable contrasts the attitude of the foolish and with that of the wise bridesmaids. The latter carry their lamps filled with oil while the former have empty lamps. Matthew often uses small but significant symbols to highlight the importance of authentic discipleship. Thus, for instance, in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, the guest without the garment is disinvited and removed. The garment stands for one’s commitment to Christian living without which there is no admittance to the Kingdom. Likewise, there is no substitute for the oil of service, love and compassion. We are reminded of the oil of the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to anoint the wounded by the wayside.
For Matthew and the early Christian community, it is the efficacy of faith that matters. True discipleship consisting of selfless service to the least and the last is what puts us in good stead before the judgment seat of God. The claim of familiarity by the foolish virgins parallels another Matthean passage: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is not one’s status, privilege, and entitlement but discipleship in action that counts. Jesus repudiates the Pharisaic notion that worthiness is based on one’s attributes, abilities, and connections rather than personal integrity.
Brothers and sisters,
We live in uncertain and challenging times. Christianity may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even unpopular minority. But, if we follow the example of our ancestors and the early Church in being an alternative society, a community of justice, inclusivity, solidarity, prayer, and support, then it is the future worth dedicating our lives to.
Let us pray that we have the courage to respond to God’s call to live our discipleship authentically. May we follow Christ humbly and faithfully even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty. May we be able to live the creative tension between the pain of the present and the hope of the future with our hearts open to the unveiling of God’s plan and our lives pivoted on it.