Waiting in Hope

Reflection on the readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

    Therefore stay awake,
    For you know neither the day nor the hour.

There are many things I find difficult in this parable. Jesus’ exhortation at the end is that we should stay awake and be vigilant, since the bridegroom is coming. Yet both the wise and the foolish fell asleep. The wise are called wise because they were prepared for the delay, not because they stayed awake. Next, when the foolish realize they need more oil, the wise refuse it to them, saying they don’t have enough. The wise prepared for themselves, but not for everyone. The wise (n their wisdom) then tell the foolish to go to the store, even though it’s clearly late and the stores are likely closed. The foolish return and have missed entry to the party.

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like? Look to your own needs, don’t share with fools, and don’t allow any latecomers? I don’t understand your story, Jesus. And I guess I’m in good company, seeing how rarely any of the apostles understood the parables. Yet still, what are you telling me about the Kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus does emphasize that only the Father knows when the end is coming. “The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24.44), Jesus warns, so we must remain vigilant and ready. Right before the story of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus tells a related story. This one speaks of the slave whose master is delayed, and so he responds by beating his fellow slave, eating and drinking, and generally misbehaving. He revels in his master’s absence, living wantonly, and saving his worries about the master’s return for later. He is not vigilant, he is not preparing himself. The foolish virgins, too, despite living chaste lives, are not really prepared for the bridegroom’s coming. Their vigilance is incomplete.

“Therefore stay awake,” Jesus says. Yet perhaps we’ve become spiritually drowsy. The earliest followers of Christ expected to stay awake only a few more years, maybe a generation or so. Attempting two thousand years of vigilance has, many times, led to failure, to beating our fellows, to carousing…in short, to ignoring Jesus’ commandment that we should love one another while we wait for his return. As Psalm 6 asks, “How long, O Lord?”

And for me, I wonder about my own drowsiness. How do I prepare? How do I wait attentively? Am I loving, seeing this time as an opportunity to serve and support others, or do I slouch toward dissolution, expecting some sort of last minute opportunity for repentance? Do I see prayer as one more thing among many others, one more activity to get done in the ongoing rush through a to-do list? Or does my prayer life sustain and maintain me, bringing me closer to God and to the wise and foolish in my life? Do I look upon the ongoing wait for Christ’s return as the unyielding tedium of waiting in line at the DMV, or as the excited anticipation before my loved one’s plane touches down at the airport? How do I wait?

We wait, but we wait in hope. We wait for the riches of God’s banquet that will slake our thirst. And we wait with one another, in bonds of community.

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