Wisdom 6:12-16 / Matthew 25:1-13
So which am I? Foolish or wise? Am I ready to join in the marriage feast, to go into the banquet hall? Or am I unprepared, not even knowing the day or the hour? Is my lamp made ready with fresh supplies of oil to give light for the Bridegroom when he comes? Or will I be locked out by my own failure to know what is needed and to have it at hand? Are my mind and my heart open to the Wisdom of God who invites me? Or am I isolated in a foolishness of thinking myself to be awake, yet still living in the darkness of self-concern and complacency? Wise or foolish…which are you?
Jesus challenged his hearers with this question of wisdom and foolishness earlier in the Gospel according to Matthew. Indeed, he concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the parable of a wise and of foolish man, each building a house. (Matt. 7:24-27) The wise man builds on rock so that the house can withstand rain and wind and flooding. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like this one,” says Jesus. But “great will be the fall” of the house which the foolish man builds on sand, unready for the inevitable storms which human life brings, both literally and figuratively.
Jesus speaks today’s parable of the foolish and wise maidens (Matt. 25:1-13) in a very different context from the former parable. This story of preparation for the arrival of a bridegroom, and entrance into the marriage feast is told on the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem during Jesus’ final visit there—which leads to his passion, death and resurrection. The moment of decision and readiness to which Jesus has come, he surprisingly symbolizes in the figure of a Galilean folk wedding in which the female attendants await the bridegroom who is bringing his bride to his own home, for the wedding feast and the consummation of the marriage. No longer do we hear of men building their houses. Instead, we have ten maidens, wise and foolish, who represent us those who “know neither the day nor the hour.” We find ourselves as those who need the light of Wisdom that we may have full self-knowledge and the freedom to act.
Much of the time, we see in ourselves only what we want to see, and have blind spots about areas we do not wish to change. The human mind is immensely good at self-deception, packing in layers of psychological wadding to protect us from the truths we do not wish to hear. This is why, if someone trespasses anywhere near the truth we are avoiding, we tend to react with what seems like irrational anger and irritability. Actually, we are being exceedingly rational, since we are protecting ourselves from discovering our hidden core. However, with the light of divine Wisdom we can come to see the truth about ourselves more clearly and completely. Our hidden core stands revealed, but by a Light that helps us to see in perspective both what is wise and foolish within us. Divine Wisdom reveals itself as the Light of Christ helping us to see the way ahead. We, along with those to whom Jesus first came, find ourselves asking, ‘What is this Wisdom and where is it found?’
The answers we receive in Scripture are cast in the language of poetic mystery in the Bible’s wisdom literature, a language encompassing the whole of truth for those willing to truly listen and act. Listen again to our lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon:
Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought. (Wisdom 6:12-16)
The book of Wisdom, along with book called Ecclesiasticus (or the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach) were in the background of Jewish/early Christian debate about what and where Wisdom is. The tradition of Wisdom personified, specifically as a female person, had been well established since the book of Proverbs, in which she, Woman Wisdom is aligned with God as a partner in creation. In Proverbs, chapter 8, Wisdom exclaims:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker (and a little child);
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:22-31 with marginal note)
In the light of this teaching, the prologue of the Gospel according to John makes a similar connection of the Word of God, in the male person of Jesus, to the mystery of creation also:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew gives grateful witness to the living presence of Wisdom in and for the world—even as Jesus himself faces rejection:
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Matthew 11:25-27)
Then Jesus continues speaking in the vein of Woman Wisdom in the Scriptures:
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)
The key words of Jesus’ saying, “yoke, labor, rest”, are found in the mouth of Wisdom in the book Ecclesiasticus:
Put your neck under her yoke,
and let your souls receive instruction…
See with your own eyes that I have labored but little
and found for myself great rest. (Ecclesiasticus 51:26 and 27)
Jesus identifies himself with embodied Wisdom—not male or female—but fully human, the Word and the Wisdom of God sharing our frail and glorious human nature. The free self-offering of his life by Jesus reveals the living and active Wisdom of God through whom we also find fullness of life. Jesus teaches us that the risks of living with full self-knowledge far outweigh the attractions of denial and complacency.
We are to live by the Light of Wisdom, kindled in the lamp of our hearts, supplied with the fresh oil of Christ’s healing love. In a world and nation dark with violence and war—in which leaders willfully abandon their responsibility to make peace through diplomacy, in which lies and ‘fake news’ are employed to divert citizens from knowledge of harmful and inhuman decisions, in which the earth’s very existence is threatened by human greed and inaction—we are to shine with the Light of Christ, bear the yoke of Christ, decide for the kindom of God which Christ brings. The less we live a lie, the more we live with integrity as God’s people and Wisdom’s children. We are called to dedicate ourselves anew to Wisdom’s teaching, love and truth, for we ourselves embody the fullness of Christ for our own and the world’s healing.
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