sabato 11 novembre 2017

Obviam Sponso

The end of the liturgical year is approaching. There are only three weeks left in Ordinary Time. When we began to read the gospel of Matthew, which has kept us company during this year, we said that such gospel is divided into five parts, each of them made of a narrative section and a discourse. Up to now we have read four of these discourses: the sermon on the mount, the missionary or apostolic discourse, the sermon of parables and the discourse on the Church. In chapters 24 and 25 we find the fifth discourse of Matthew’s gospel, the so-called “eschatological discourse,” that is, a sermon about final things. During this last discourse Jesus tells three parables; today we have heard the second of them, the parable of the ten virgins. This parable is precisely about the parousia, namely the second coming of Christ, represented by the bridegroom. The virgins stand for the disciples, who await the coming of the Lord. All of these virgins have their lamps; but five of them, along with their lamps, take the oil supply, while the other five don’t. The first ones are labelled as wise; the others as foolish.

The fact that the bridegroom is delayed means that we do not know when he comes. “Therefore—Jesus says at the end of the parable—stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This is the point of the parable. But what does it mean? If we consider the story, we see that all the virgins—both wise and foolish—fall asleep. So, the wise virgins cannot be praised because they stay awake waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. Actually, drowsiness is part of the human nature; we cannot be surprised if even the wise virgins fall asleep. And Jesus, who knows the human nature, cannot expect of us something beyond our possibilities. Maybe he means something different, when he says, “Stay awake!” To understand it, we have to consider attentively the parable. What is the difference between the wise and the foolish virgins? When the coming of the bridegroom is announced and the virgins get up, the wise ones can trim their lamps because they have spare oil, and thus go out to meet the bridegroom; the foolish ones instead cannot follow them, because their lamps are going out. When the bridegroom arrives, the parable points out that only “those who were ready went into the wedding feast.” That is the point: we have to be ready. The Alleluia before the gospel clearly explains the real meaning of Jesus’ words by joining together two verses of the previous parable: “Stay awake and be ready!” (Mt 24:42.44)

OK. But, in practice, what should we do? Maybe, in order to grasp the real teaching of the parable, we have to connect it with other passages of Matthew’s gospel. In the sermon on the mount, at a certain point, Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock … And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand” (Mt 7:24.26). Even in this case Jesus uses the same expressions—“wise” and “fool.” Wise is the one who listens to his word and practice it; fool is the one who contents himself with listening without practicing. In the same context we find another parallel with the parable: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). It is not enough to call on the name of the Lord; there is need of doing his will. Well, going back to today’s parable, we can say the following: Christian life is like going forth to meet the Bridegroom (obviam Sponso) with lighted lamps, that is, with faith. The problem is that, with the delay of the Lord, faith, like the flame of a lamp, can dim and go out, if we do not feed it with oil. What is the oil, with which we can supply our lamp? Faith is fed with good works, with the observance of commandments, especially the commandment of love, with the fulfillment of God’s will. If we do this, our lamp will not go out and, when the Lord comes—whenever that may be—he will find us ready to enter the wedding feast with him.