32ND SUNDAY IN THE ORDINARY TIME, YEAR – HOMILY
THEME: KEEP THE LAMP BURNING
By: Msgr Gerald M. Musa
Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.
Before the beginning of the new millennium 2000, there were speculations from preachers of different religious organisations that the world would come to an end in the year 2000. Many people asked me during conversations at dinner, in the parish office, and in casual discussions whether it was true or not that the world was coming to an end in 2000. My common answer to them was: “I honestly do not know whether the year 2000 was the end of the world or not; however, there was one thing that I was certain about which is the fact that Jesus did not mention any particular year in which the world will come to an end. All that Jesus said was: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). When Jesus told his listeners to stay awake, he meant they should be prepared at all times. Naturally, every phase of life needs preparation and we spend our whole lives preparing for one thing or the other.
The people of Thessalonica were also eagerly expecting the second coming of Jesus and they hoped that Jesus would meet all of them alive so that he would carry them to heaven. They were worried and confused that some members of the community were dying before the second coming of Jesus. They feared that those who died before the second coming would be left behind at the second coming. The Apostle Paul had to write and clarify things telling them that at the second coming of Christ; those who are still alive have no advantage over those who had fallen asleep as “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
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Jesus narrates a parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins to underscore the importance of preparation. The wise virgins were well prepared to welcome the bridegroom with enough oils in their lamps; the foolish virgins were ill-prepared and did not make adequate preparations to welcome the bridegroom. What is the significance of the lamp and oil which Jesus speaks about? An old famous song gives us a clue: ‘Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, keep me burning till the break of day.’ This song reminds us about the oil that keeps the lamp burning and the light shining.
We can differentiate three categories of Christians:
Whose Lights Shine Brightly: These are Christians who have their lamps shining very brightly and everyone can see that light. Those whose lights are shining brightly are those who are constantly aware that they are in the world but not of the world; these set of Christians are very focused on their love of God and neighbour and are willing to use all that they have for the promotion of God’s kingdom in the world. In addition, they see each day as God’s special gift and as the last day, they have on earth.
Whose Lights Are Dim: There are people whose lamps are very dim. The light is burning but the light is so weak that it is difficult to tell whether it is extinguished or still burning. This set of Christians are baptised, made their First Holy Communion, confirmed and wedded in the Church but they do not practice their faith actively and so their lives are dominated so much by material things. There is very little faith in this set of Christians who come to God only when they are in trouble. Their love for the material world is much stronger than their love for spiritual growth. Such people sometimes, wait for the eleventh hour before they begin making preparations for heaven. However, not all of them are lucky enough to reach the 11th hour, as some would breathe their last at the 10th hour. This is the reason why Jesus says stay awake for you do not know the day or the hour.
Those Without Oil: Finally, there are people whose lamps have no oil and whose lights are completely extinguished. They are people who were once Christians but presently they do not believe in anything outside the material world and to make matters worse, some of them have turned out to be anti-Christians – challenging the message of Jesus and supporting anti-Christian ideologies and all forms of occultic philosophies. For this set of people, the parable of being ready and prepared for life after death makes no sense and the challenge of keeping their lamps burning is meaningless. It was Mother Teresa who said: ‘To keep a lamp burning, we must continue to put oil in it.’ This is to say that our faith can continue to be alive and thrive only when we add the oil of love to it. When we pray to the Holy Spirit, we ask him to enkindle in our hearts the fire of divine love.
The wise virgins in the parable appear very mean and uncharitable, as they did not share their oil with the foolish ones. The point that Jesus wishes to make here is there are things in life, which we cannot borrow, and those things are virtue and integrity. We cannot borrow the goodness of our parents, brothers, and sisters to gain entry into heaven; rather it is our level of preparation here on earth that prepares us for the life hereafter.
Again, Mother Theresa says: “God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful. However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace.” No matter how beautiful the world is, we must not remain attached to it but must continually make gradual preparations to give it up.
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