32nd Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Peter Robinson
Preached: November 12, 2023
We are all familiar with weddings in our Western culture. We begin observing weddings as children. I still remember my younger sisters in our living room, pretending that they were in a wedding. And many here have been married. As a former Anglican minister, I am married myself.
That said, we need some help from anthropologists to understand the wedding Jesus talks about in Matthew 13. Weddings in the Jewish culture of 1st century Palestine were different.
You see, the principal moment of a wedding (in that age) was not when the bride comes down the aisle. (A priest shared with me a few years ago that he was preparing a couple for their wedding, and the young woman kept referring to the aisle as the “runway.”) In Jesus’ day, the principle moment was when the groom went to fetch the bride from her parents’ house — to take her to his own house; which he may have built himself, by the way. The torches Jesus speaks of would have been olive-oil-soaked rags, flaming on the end of a stick. The torches ushered the groom to the bride’s residence, and later, the couple back to their new home.
In his story, St Matthew (who loves clear, black-and-white details), is not pointing out that all the bridesmaids went to sleep. Rather, he’s claiming that only some had brought oil with which to soak the rags. Only some were prepared to wait for the bridegroom, coming for his bride.
Now what do we make of this, in our culture 2000 years later? For Matthew, the flaming torches and olive oil can be understood as a stock of good works … with which we await Jesus’ Second Coming some day. Matthew’s main point is about due preparation, an appropriate making ready. In Jesus’ parable, it’s not that half of the girls did not have enough oil. Rather, half of them simply did not have any oil. No wonder the rags went out. In fact, without oil the rags would not even light properly.
So Matthew, who’s referencing Jesus, makes a single-point parable. That point? We need to be preparing for the final wedding day. In Jesus’ teaching, remember, a wedding feast was the metaphor of the joys of our Lord’s “eternal kingdom.” It is the joyful moment of the wedding of the Lord to his bride (the Church) at the end of this age. So, we need to be prepared for the glorious return of our Lord, filling the skies with his light.
As I close, then, let’s briefly think about good works. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (¶ 2516) teaches us that morally good works are the result of submission to the will of God. Good works are the spiritual fruits that grow from our relationship with God, through Jesus — they are NOT due to our effort alone.
In other words, good works are the virtues that grow in our lives as we trust our Lord; as we receive the sacraments; as we obey God’s will. Good works are the saving action of the Holy Spirit in your life, and mine. Bad works, on the other hand, are the vices, the result of resisting God’s will. Bad works are the rejection of the saving action of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, in just a few minutes while the altar is prepared for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and still later as you come to Jesus in the communion line, let me encourage you to do a brief examination of the quality of the good works in your life. Are you preparing, day by year by decade, to welcome Jesus, the bridegroom? When the skies split open, and he comes for you and his beloved bride, the Church, will you be watching?