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November 12 2017 (A)-- (A) Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Remember your last end. Be prepared to meet your God.
  2. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Wisdom 6:12-16). Wisdom is found by those who look for her. Personified wisdom in biblical and Jewish tradition is a very rich concept. In the Book of Proverbs she presents herself as having been created by God at, or as, the beginning of his work of creation. She was before him always, present and rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race, in dialogue with it (Proverbs 8:30-31). Among other matters, personified wisdom is the divine presence in the world, she knows the mind and the plan of God which she is desirous to communicate to those who wish. The book of Wisdom develops this idea at length, as we can see from the present reading. By those who love her she can be easily seen, and found by those who look for her. She walks about looking for those who are worthy of her. Those so worthy are the clean of heart. Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul or dwell in a body enslaved to sin (Wisdom 1:4). This reading is aptly chosen to go with today’s gospel parable on the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom’s coming.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 62[63]). For you my soul is thirsting, O God, my God.

Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). God will bring with him those who have died. This reading from the earliest preserved letters of St Paul, and the earliest example of Christian literature, brings before us the necessity of theology, of reflection on revelation, in the Church. The Pharisee Saul, to become Paul, was converted to Christ from Pharisaic tradition, and his fundamental Christian belief was the resurrection of Christ and the implications of this for all who live and die in Christ. He had founded the Church in Thessalonica, a community that had grown and reflected on their beliefs, and some short time after his first preaching to them he learned in Corinth through communication from them of their concerns about members of their Christian community had died, which gave rise to questions in relation to what Paul had taught there about the coming of Christ: Would those who had died be at a disadvantage with regard to those alive at the event? Paul in his reply had to reflect on the matter. He worked within a current religious view of a three dimensional world: this world, heaven above, and a world below. Heaven and God were above. Christ had ascended into heaven, and would come from this heaven to take his faithful to himself. At this early stage, Paul and some others in the early Church, believed that Christ’s second coming would be near. This early Church held two beliefs simultaneously, in contrast but not contradictory, namely to await the return of Christ near at hand, with a command to have the Good News preached to the ends of the earth. They were not quite contradictory since as Jesus had said only the Father alone knew when the end (and the return of Christ) would come. Paul shared belief in the early return of Christ (together with the mission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth) in his early preaching, but modified it later. In this reading he replies within those restraints, in the three opening sentences giving the basic truths: at Christ’s coming there will be no difference between those who have died and those still alive. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus, pledge of eternal union with God and Christ for all believers, assures this. This much, he says, he can declare from the Lord’s own teaching, or in the literal translation “by the word of the Lord”. What this word was remains uncertain, whether a saying of Jesus not elsewhere recorded, or a word of the Lord received by Paul himself as apostle, as prophet, or some other word.

Having asserted the essential truth about union with Christ, Paul goes on to describe this and the coming of Christ in language and imagery borrowed from Jewish apocalyptic, which does not do justice to the unknown events of the end. It is his first known attempt it this. He will modify his position on the matter in later letters, noting that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. Reflection on the truths involved will in later centuries produce a developed theology on the end time and the intermediate state.

Gospel (Matthew 25:1-13). The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him. This reading is aptly chosen for the near ending of the liturgical year, with its call for believers to be prepared for the coming of the Lord, to stay awake because we do not know either the day or the hour.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Remember your last end. Be prepared to meet your God!.

The last things, the particular judgment at death, and the call for preparedness for this are less spoken of or written about in modern times. In the biblical context there can more readily be reference to the Parousia, to Jesus’ return. There may even be an idea that Jesus made reference only to this, as in today’s parable, without mention of being prepared for death. This would be erroneous. Jesus spoke of such matters, and a number of times in Matthew’s Gospel assigned as Sunday readings for this year. He was asked what good deed was necessary to have eternal life, and his answer was to keep the commandments (19:16-17). He was also asked whether only a few will be saved, and his reply was to strive to enter through the narrow door, for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life (7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24). He asked what it profits people if they gain the whole world and suffer the loss of their souls (16:26), where the word “soul” is not to be understood just as life, since the text following speaks of the Son of Man repaying every one for what they have done. The Gospel warnings are taken up by early Christian preaching. In his letters to the Philippians Paul has many positive things to say, telling them to think about whatever is honourable, just, pure, whatever is pleasing, commendable, any excellence, anything worthy of praise (4:8) but also tells them (Philippians 2:12-13) to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, being aware that it is God who is at work in them enabling them to do his will. Paul knows that, as athletes in a race, he must discipline himself in his Christian life, by punishing his body, lest after proclaiming the Gospel he should not be disqualified, become a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27). These are but some of the admonitions of the New Testament, which has many warnings on the avoidance of the occasions of sin. While the emphasis in today’s Church on the positive, on charisms, and such like is commendable, neglect of the New Testament warning on the frailty of human nature, and on the constant need of vigilance can be dangerous for Christian living.