“You are God’s Temple” Reflection and Lectio Divina

Reflection for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – “You are God’s Temple” by Fr Val Collier, Salesian

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 25,1-13

Today the word of God invites us to focus our attention on one of the attitudes most characteristic of the Christian life, namely hope.  It is good that in the Gospel Jesus makes us aware of the risks we run if we do not prepare diligently for his coming. Nowadays it is not easy to live in hope. With great effort we have created a world that is highly organized, and maybe also more just, but with limited success. This world of ours offers few reasons for hope. The things in life that we have not yet achieved are not enough to keep alive our hope for the future. We are satisfied with what we have at present. The future does not inspire us with hope nor does it encourage us to make greater efforts. We are unable to make sacrifices for something that we have not yet got. We strive to hold on to what we have instead of hoping for what we have not yet attained.

At that time: Jesus told his disciples this parable: [1] “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. [2] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.     [3] For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;
[4] but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. [5] As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. [6] But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ [7] Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. [8] And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ [9] But the wise replied, `Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ [10] And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. [11] Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.’ [12] But he replied, `Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
[13] Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

I. Read: understand what the text says, focussing on how it says it.

The last great discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel (24,1 – 26,1) is addressed solely to the disciples. They marvel at the splendid view of the Temple from the Mount of Olives, and they are dumbfounded by Jesus’ prediction of the proximate end of that world. They asked Jesus when it would happen (24,3). Jesus gave some signs (24,4-41) but he insisted mainly on the need to be prepared. “Stay awake, therefore, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.” (24,42)

The parable of the ten virgins (25,1-13) is meant as an urgent call to vigilance. It begins with an everyday experience: a group young women, perhaps not all of them virgins, was following a young man on his way home from a visit to his intended bride. But something unusual occurs. A man about to get married does not want to delay the celebration.  No reason is given for the delay (25,5) but it was a possibility that should have been borne in mind. The story focuses on the need to be prepared for every eventuality, even that of a long and unexpected delay.  If the bridesmaids are expected to wait, without knowing when the bridegroom is to arrive, they should prepare well for a long wait and have everything ready that they will need for their vigil. Not all those who have stayed awake that will take part in the wedding feast, but only those who are awake and have kept their lamps burning.  All who have light in the night will be admitted to the Lord’s banquet. What distinguishes the wise from the foolish is not sleep, or the long wait, but having the light.  The bridegroom may arrive at any moment, even in the middle of the night.  They must be vigilant therefore, and prepared, without having to depend on others, but equipped with whatever is needed. It is not enough, then, to hope, nor even to remain virgins, because the bridegroom wants to be accompanied by prudent virgins, people who keep watch because they know that their Lord is coming, and have provided themselves with oil to fill the time of waiting with light. If they want to be recognised and admitted to the feast, they will have to keep watch always with lamps burning.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

Here we have the beginning of the last great discourse of Jesus in which he forewarns the early Christian community against a kind of complacency that the Christian life can instil.  If we are hoping for something, it means that we have not yet got everything. No one should feel secure while waiting for the Lord who is still to come. What we hope for, therefore, is also our criterion for discernment. The fact that Jesus gives his warning in the form of a parable does not mean that we can afford to take it less seriously.

The story reflects well the customs of Jesus’ time.  A group of young women carrying candles accompanied the bride-to-be to the house of her fiancé. The feast was delayed because of an unexpected delay on his part. The candles or lamps became more necessary than ever, and it was the bridesmaids’ responsibility to keep them burning. Since they did not know when the bridegroom would come, some of them got oil, and their foresight and prudence gained them admission to the feast. To enjoy the Lord’s presence, it was not enough to live in expectation. They had to be prepared and, if the feast was delayed, they had to have the necessary light.

We are handing on to our young people a world in which they can have everything and every experience without having to wait. Life has ceased to be promising because we can provide everything ourselves, at our own discretion.  We do not want to wait for something better than what we have now, and so we have stopped dreaming of a better future.  Today, more than ever, we live without hope.

Our inability to believe in something better has taken away from us any desire to wait or go in search of it. Nobody goes in search of something he does not hope for. The sad thing is that, because we can live happily without that something better, we continue to live unsatisfied lives because there is something missing. The worst thing of all is that, because we who are people of faith go through life without expecting anything new or better, we are disappointed with ourselves and with God.

The fact that we have not yet obtained all we desire should not discourage us or harden our hearts. Not being able to satisfy our every need, despite our best efforts, should remind us that God alone can satisfy us completely. A Christian can be happy, not because he has everything that life can offer, but because he hopes for everything from God.  He feels a need for the things he has not yet got, but does not despair when he lacks something. He knows that his happiness lies, not in what he has, but in what he hopes for. If we can be happy with the little we have, then what we still lack gives us reason to hope.

What Jesus wants to reminds us of in this parable is that it is not enough to have faith in God – we must put all our hopes in him. Only those who were prepared, with lamps lit and with cans of oil, ready for whatever might come, were admitted with the bridegroom to the feast. All the young women were invited but some of them lost their opportunity through lack of foresight. They were not prudent enough to prepare for an unexpected delay on the part of the bridegroom. They were not prepared to wait and the bridegroom did not wait for them when he arrived. Because they did not keep their lamps burning, they were not admitted to  the feast. This is the danger Jesus is warning us about. If he comes late and finds us lazy, our tiredness will grow more than our hope. If we think he will not come today, we may not be ready for him tomorrow. Our lamps, like all our best illusions, are for other things, other plans or other people. Our life becomes ever less resplendent, ever more delusory.

Since we are not too preoccupied about when he will finally arrive, we do not feel his absence, and since we do not miss him, we do not really wait for him.  And so, having lost the hope of one day finding him, we are losing God, bit by bit every day, without realizing it. Today we forget him a bit more than yesterday, because today we were not able to have him totally and we lose hope of ever being able to have him. We are emptying ourselves of God every time we lose hope of having him – we throw God out of our lives and out of our hearts, because we cannot bear not having him already within our reach. And yet, if anyone has reason to hope for a better world, surely it is we who believe in him.  We are not people without hope, and we should not live like people without hope. Knowing that he will come should make us faithful in waiting, witnesses of our hope.

We will be hope-filled witnesses only if feel that God is far away and perceive his absence as a prior condition for waiting for him in hope. The first step in conversion to hope is to lament God’s absence and long for his return. Our waiting will be of benefit if we are not idle, but busy preparing for his coming.  We should not forget that the foolish virgins passed day and night in waiting. They kept vigil until the bridegroom arrived. Their only mistake was lack of foresight. They did not acquire what was needed to keep their lamps lit. They were all virgins, as they were supposed to be, but they were not very clever. Their long hours of waiting were of little use to them, because they did not have what was expected of them.

When the Lord comes to meet us he will invite all who are waiting for him, vigilant and wise, to share his joy and his feast. Those who are willing to accept his delay, not only today but tomorrow too, will enjoy the company of their Lord. If we really believe that God can knock on our door at any time, we will always be ready to answer. Knowing with certainty that God will come, no matter how long he may delay, like the bridegroom in the parable, should fill our hearts with expectation and our hands with good works. We should not get discouraged because he delays, but we should be prepared. If he comes late in the night, it is all the more reason why we should be vigilant to ensure that he does not find us asleep.

We will not wait for God unless we love him.  Only if we miss him will we wait in hope for him. And we will miss him only if we love him and know that we do not yet possess him. We wait for the absent loved one, not for love that is lost. We work for love that can still be restored, not for love that is dead. Herein, perhaps lies the strongest reason for our lack of hope and our foolishness – we do not love God enough to really feel his absence. We do not truly love God if we do not dream of the day when we will see him face to face. We do not love God enough to speak about him and speak to him constantly, even though we do not yet possess him fully. If we truly love God and hope in him, his delay will not be an obstacle to our keeping vigil and we will not fall into inactivity. Hope keeps us awake, fills us with the resources we need to make our waiting fruitful.  It makes us more diligent and never less loving.

In a world where there is little hope, we Christians who love the one who is to come have a mission to accomplish: to fill the darkness with light until the day of the Lord comes. Is there any other mission more urgent than this at the present time?