Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Nov. 8.
You and I live in one of the few cultures in which people subject themselves to wedding rehearsals. People elsewhere seem already to know what to do. They just show up and the wedding generally comes off without a hitch. But whether needed or not, the reason we have rehearsals is so that everyone will be ready when the time comes for the wedding.
Marriages in Jesus' time were a lot different from ours. They were arranged by the two sets of parents and preceded by a time of betrothal that lasted until puberty, at which time the boy and his groomsmen went to get the girl to escort her and her family to his home for the wedding. This is the background to the parable in today's Gospel. Most weddings took place after dark and the main job of the bridesmaids was to light the way for the wedding procession.
In today's Gospel, the groom arrived very late and like teenagers anywhere, half the bridesmaids were irresponsible and didn't bring any extra oil. When word came that the groom finally was on his way, the five ill-prepared bridesmaids couldn't keep their lamps lit for lack of oil. So they ran off to buy more, but there were two problems:
Jesus' point is that unlike these five foolish girls, we should think ahead and always be ready for his return because we don't know when it will be. By the 80s A.D. when Matthew wrote his Gospel -- 50 years after Jesus' death -- it was already clear that the Second Coming would not be as soon as they had thought and with this delay came the danger that people would start to let things slide and so not be ready when at last he came.
Well, here we are now 20 centuries after Jesus' death and we're still waiting for the Second Coming. By Matthew's time believers knew that Jesus' return was being delayed, but no one dreamed it would have taken this long.
On the other hand, look again. Jesus comes to us all the time. The final, ultimate, end-of-the-world coming in glory for judgment is yet to occur, thank God. If the world had ended as soon as the early Christians thought, you and I would never have been born and so would never have the opportunity to live forever with God in heaven -- or be exposed to the risk of going to hell. This delay is because God loves us. So thank God for the delay. It gives us a chance to go to heaven.
Moreover, prior to Jesus' final return are many other comings of the Lord for which we also must be ready. Indeed, if we miss these intermediate comings, we probably won't be ready for Jesus' final coming either. But if we are ready for Jesus' other comings, we will be ready for his final coming too, whether at the end of our lives or at the end of the world.
When do these intermediate comings occur? Every single day. Every time we encounter another human being we encounter Jesus in disguise, whether we recognize him or not -- and sometimes he's very well disguised. Mother Teresa once said, “The more repulsive the person, the better Jesus' disguise.” Jesus also comes to us in the miracles of daily life: the birth of a child, any time we pray, the sacraments we receive, the Scriptures we read, moments of insight and discovery, moments of shame and repentance, moments of fear and faith and hope.
If we keep our lamps lit and our eyes open, we will be ready to welcome Jesus our bridegroom coming to us every single day, which includes also the last day of his final return, at which point, like the wise virgins in our Gospel, we will go with him right into the wedding feast and share fully in the heavenly banquet he has prepared for us.
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