Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion


for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Feast of Christ the King (34th Sunday of Year A)

Christ the King (34th Sunday of Year A) [Mt 25:31-46]
26 November 2017
The Judgement of the Nations
Readings: (1) Ezekiel 34:11-12.15-17 (2) 1 Cor 15:20-26.28
1.  Theme in brief
The criterion of Christ the King’s judgment
2.  Focus Statement  
The criterion in which Christ the King will judge the people of all nations when he returns in glory is whether they did acts of mercy to the least ones.
3.  Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel text depicts the Last Judgment in the form of a story. Some scholars call it Parable of the Sheep and Goats. It identifies the Universal Judge with a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats (25:32); and also as a King who sits on the throne of his glory (25:31,34, 40) to judge all the nations gathered before him (25:32). He divides people into two groups: sheep representing those who did good deeds or acts of mercy to the least of his brothers or sisters to his right, and those who failed to do so to his left (25:33,40,45). It is natural for shepherds in Palestinian situation to separate the goats and keep them inside at night to protect them from cold, and the sheep outside as they can bear some cold due to their wool. It is probable that this story considers the righteous ones as sheep because they are more valuable for their economy.
The criterion of judgement by Christ the King at the end of the world is service rendered by humankind to the least ones (25:40, 45). The deeds of mercy done by them are enumerated in concrete or practical terms such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting the prisoners (25:35). Thus, this story illustrates that the love-commandment taught by Jesus should be put into practice by doing concrete acts of mercy to the needy. Love shown to the needy is in reality love shown to Jesus. The King admits those who pass his criterion to his eternal Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (25:34), and those who fail to “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels (25:41).
There are various opinions regarding who “all the nations” and “the least of my brothers” are. Some experts say that the former term refers to all humanity (Christians and non-Christians alike) and the latter to anyone in distress or need of any kind. Some others say that in Matthew’s understanding, all nations refer to Gentiles and the least of Christ’s brothers refer to Christians. As the disciples are called Jesus’ brothers elsewhere also in Matthew’s gospel (12:49; 28:10), they deduce from it to say that it means the least of Christians. According to this understanding, all Gentiles will be judged at the end according to deeds of mercy done to Christians. We shall take the first opinion that Christ the King will judge both Christians and non-Christians alike at the end-time exclusively on the criterion of service rendered to the least ones or “the little ones” in need or distress. Here as well as in other places in Matthew’s gospel, the word “least ones” or “little ones” (10:42; 18:6,14) has connotation of the most insignificant, vulnerable, helpless, the underprivileged or the disadvantaged.
The righteous are told that they encountered Jesus in so many insignificant people whom they served without even knowing that they were doing it for Christ himself and whom they do not even remember. The objection of the unrighteous that they never even met the Shepherd-King in distress, is answered by explaining that they are not condemned for committing many sins, but for omitting to do good deeds to the afflicted people. It is interesting and very surprising to note that the criterion of judgment or the characteristic mark of authentic Christians is not their creed, faith, sinless life or state of grace, but the concern or care for the needy people. Jesus identifies himself with such people. He calls them his ‘brothers or sisters.’ By ignoring them, he says they have ignored him. Does it mean faith and worship are totally unnecessary? Not at all. They are presupposed; because it is grace that comes from prayer and worship that produces fruit of good works.
4.  Application to life                     
Today, as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the gospel text tells us that at the end of time Christ is going to come in glory as a King to judge not only Christians but also all humanity. The whole pilgrim Church (and unknowingly the whole of humanity) marches towards the heavenly Kingdom where Christ the King reigns. But what is going to be the criterion of getting admitted to his Kingdom? We are not judged by the prayers we said, the Sunday Services we attended, the Holy Masses we offered, the novenas we completed, but exclusively on the deeds of mercy and service rendered by us to the neediest persons or the least ones. Hence, the message of today’s feast becomes louder: Acclaiming Christ as our King becomes meaningful only when he is acclaimed through our solidarity with the least of our brothers and sisters by doing deeds of mercy to the least of them. The rule of Christ the King is the rule of love and compassion towards such people. Hence, today we acclaim a King whose Kingdom is not a Kingdom of power, but service rendered to the least ones with whom he identifies himself. We become citizens of his Kingdom precisely by serving the least ones.
According to today’s gospel, the least ones are the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the strangers, the sick and the prisoners. But these are only a few examples, and are neither to be taken literally, nor as an exhaustive list of all the least ones and all acts of love we are called to do for such people. They symbolize all other human needs – material, psychological or spiritual. The least ones also include all people whom Jesus showed special attention and concern: the poor, the outcasts, the sinners, the lost sheep and the sheep without a shepherd, the helpless, the sick, the women, the estranged, etc. Here Jesus applies the practical aspects of his love-commandment to include any small act of kindness or mercy done to so many insignificant people whom we may not even remember. For instance, visiting the sick in our neighbourhood; consoling a bereaved family; accepting a child which has gone astray; giving a helping hand to a family that has no means to repair their leaking house; tutoring a weak student; taking the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden; sharing our food and clothing with the deprived; giving our seat in crowded buses/trains to the aged person or a mother carrying her child in her arms; etc.
Mother Teresa has made this gospel text as the main basis of her mission to the poorest of the poor. She has shown in action that for her the least ones mean not only Christians but the whole of suffering humanity. She considered and her Sisters continue to consider the poor, the destitute, the orphans, the dying, and the uncared for of any religion, ethnicity, race or caste as the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. She has shown to the world that service done to them is service done to Christ. Christ our King comes to us in the guise of the miserable and afflicted people of this sort. Love in action is a better acclamation of Christ as our King than mere lip service. Jesus makes it clear that love means doing good and doing good means responding to the needs of the poor or the disadvantaged.
In various parts of the world there are certain indigenous people, marginalized groups, downtrodden people, the migrants, the victims of war or natural calamities, etc. There are regions where women and children are denied their rights. When we are directly or indirectly involved in programmes that empower them, we surely do service to Christ, though such service is often opposed by the powerful ones who have vested interests of their own to keep them as they are. Should their hate campaign, creation of fear psychosis, false propaganda, attacks and intimidation prevent us from recognizing our heavenly King who comes to us in such people’s guise? Should we not recognize him when he comes, and serve him with love?
In this story, the judging King addresses the righteous ones on his right side (symbolically “the sheep”) as “blessed” because they imitated a King who heard the cries of the afflicted while on earth. These blessed ones knew very well that their King wanted that in his Kingdom people should not go hungry, thirsty, naked, and abandoned without care in times of sickness. On the other hand, the “accursed” ones on his left side (symbolically “the goats”) just closed their eyes on the needs of the disadvantaged. They failed to show to the world that Jesus was their real King by neglecting or omitting to do what he had commanded them to do. They might have made a very good profession of faith in Christ or were very dogmatic about their beliefs and were regular church-goers, but because of their lack of response to the dire needs of the least ones they were actually goats in sheep’s clothing. If we acclaim Christ as our King, we have to make his rule of love and compassion as the guiding principle of our life. We need to ask ourselves: which rule guides our life; rule of love and service to the neediest persons, or rule of serving our own interests.
This story makes it clear to us that we are called to show active concern for the poor and the needy, not merely out of humanitarian or philanthropic consideration, but because Jesus identifies himself with such people. Mother Teresa had no hesitation to tell even non-believers that she saw Jesus in the poor and the orphans. Should we not share Jesus’ solidarity with the deprived ones? We should have the heart to recognize those in need and distress in our surrounding area and look for opportunities to practice at least one deed of mercy to such people in a pro-active manner. Traces of Jesus’ final coming as Shepherd-King to judge the world are already found every day in a hidden form. He comes, comes, and ever comes in the guise of the least of our needy brothers and sisters.
Those who consider murder, adultery and prostitution as the most serious sins of the world are bound to be shocked to hear that according to this story neglecting to help the needy is more serious than these sins. The unrighteous are condemned not for any sins committed but for Christian duties omitted. The help we give to the least ones should be given out of a loving heart and not to get any reward, merit or publicity. Those who did deeds of mercy according to this story were not even aware that they did all those things for Christ. What an unexpected surprise to know that the most humble and little gestures made with genuine love in one’s heart have a value for eternity. The accursed ones (symbolized by‘ goats’) must have thought that they would have done wonderful deeds of mercy to the afflicted if they had known Christ was coming in their guise. God wants that we should take care of the disadvantaged ones with no strings attached to it.
5. Response to God's Word
Does acclaiming Christ as our King mean for us showing solidarity with the least of our brothers and sisters by our deeds of mercy towards them? Do we recognize and serve our heavenly King when he comes to us in the guise of the poor and the needy? As citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, do we seriously try to put into practice the love-commandment of Christ in practical terms by doing small acts of kindness or mercy to the needy and helpless people? Have we failed to show to the world that Christ is our real King by neglecting or omitting to do acts of compassion to the least of our brothers and sisters? Which rule guides our life: rule of love and service to the neediest persons, or rule of serving our own interests? On which side of the King-Judge are we now and will be when the final judgment comes: on his right or left?
6.  A prayer
Lord Jesus, today we acclaim and accept you not only as our King but of the whole universe. We acknowledge that your rule is a rule of love and compassion towards the poor and the needy. Grant that we may be more and more sensitive to the cries of such people and reach out to them with our deeds of compassion. When you come in their guise, may we recognize you quickly and serve you. And at the end when you come in your glory, may we be found worthy to hear these words from you: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.” Amen.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

33rd Sunday of Year A

Thirty-third Sunday of Year A [Mt 25:14-30]
19 November 2017
The Parable of the Talents
Readings: (1) Prov 31: 10-13.19-20.30-31 (2) 1 Thess 5:1.6
1.  Theme in brief
Our responsibility and accountability regarding God’s gifts
2. Focus Statement  
God has endowed us with so many resources, gifts and abilities out of his bounty, not for safe-keeping but to freely put them at the service of his Kingdom as responsible stewards and be accountable to him.
3. Explanation of the text
The Parable of the Talents prescribed for today’s liturgy is used by Matthew as an allegory with word for word application: In this story, the master is Christ himself; his departure refers to Christ’s ascension (25:15); his return after a long time refers to the delay of Second Coming (25:19); faithful slaves are Christians who hear the Word of God and keep it and lazy slave represents those who do not; settling accounts is the last judgement (25:19); and the reward is an entry into the joy of the Master (25:21,23) or joy of the heavenly Kingdom.
In modern English, the word talent, though derived from this parable, has come to mean a skill, aptitude or natural ability that can be improved by diligent practice. But in this parable, it means money or wealth. A talent was not a coin but a solid piece of weight made out of gold, silver or copper. Its value differed according to the metal used. Anyway, five or even two talents meant a large amount of money. Thus in this parable, talents actually do not mean abilities bestowed by the master on three slaves but money which is distributed to them according to their abilities (25:15).
Obviously, this parable points at the following message: the disciples of the Lord have to faithfully carry out the stewardship entrusted to them in a responsible manner between the period of his ascension and Second Coming (Parousia). It speaks about two kinds of disciples: those who responsibly put into use what they have received from God for building up his Kingdom and those who keep it for themselves. Though three slaves are mentioned in the story, the first two belong to the same category of those who invest their talents and double their money. The master commends them for being good and faithful or trustworthy servants (25:21,23). He puts them in charge of many more things and invites them to enter into his ‘joy.’ These slaves exactly correspond to the faithful and wise slave mentioned in a previous parable in Matthew’s gospel (24:45-51), whom the master finds doing what is assigned to him even in his absence.
But the third slave belongs to the category of those who bury or hide their talents (25:25). He does not want to take any risk so that his position remains very secure. Instead of investing his money with the bankers and earning at least interest for it, his bank seems to be just a hole in the ground in which he hides his mater’s money (25:18). He rationalizes his negligence by making excuses. He thinks his master is a harsh task-master (25:24); actually, he is not. He says he is afraid of his master (25:25) – a baseless fear. In fact, he has not understood God as depicted by Jesus – an infinitely compassionate Father. The real reason – which the third servant does not admit – is that he is wicked and lazy (25:26). He ventures nothing and loses everything. His unfaithfulness costs him severely. He is thrown into the outer darkness (25:30). Entering into the “joy of the master” is a reference to the bliss of heaven. Throwing into the outer darkness seems to be a reference to a life to be spent eternally without God, and without joy.
4. Application to life                    
Again, as the Liturgical Year comes to end, the Church draws our attention to the end-times – the Second Coming of Christ, final judgement, eternal reward and punishment – through the Parable of the Talents. This parable tells us that before Christ will return and final judgement will take place, we should use the Master’s goods in a responsible manner. 
God entrusts his “property” (25:14) to our care. In the parable it is also called “talents” (25:15). We can apply the symbol of talents or gifts of God to our lives in various ways: First of all, according to the gospel, the greatest gift God has given us through his Son is the gift of his Kingdom. Though it is a gift it is also a task entrusted to us. We are responsible for its spread and growth by using our potentials. As we saw above, the original meaning of a talent is wealth. As per this meaning, the present parable tells us to invest at least some of our wealth/money and resources for the promotion of God’s Kingdom, instead of investing it fully and totally on our own kingdom.
Secondly, our faith is also another supernatural gift of God. It is not given for safe-keeping; it must be invested daily in the midst of challenges and trials. We are often tempted to choose the values of the world and reject the values of God’s Kingdom such as genuine caring, sharing, serving and making sacrifices for the sake of love. Now that we are in the period of the Master’s absence, our faith is often put to the test until he returns. How do we come out this test? There are times we have failed; and the Lord calls us to greater accountability of the way we used our God-given gift of faith as we reflect on the impermanence of our life..
Thirdly, though the word ‘talent’ originally meant only wealth, when we apply it to spiritual life there is nothing wrong in making an extended application to include in it all God-given gifts and abilities. Hence, as per the meaning the word ‘talent’ has acquired in English, a talent can mean all gifts, aptitudes, skills, abilities, education, power or authority, etc., given by God freely out of his bounty. They are not for safe-keeping but for freely putting them into service of others. The question is whether we use these things for God’s purposes, whether we are responsible like “the good and trustworthy slave” (25:21) or irresponsible like “the wicked and lazy slave” (25:26). What does faithfulness or trustworthiness mean in Matthew’s gospel? When we read his gospel carefully, we come to now that it implies following the Lord and continuing his mission of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, casting out evil, becoming messengers of peace and serving (or doing deeds of mercy to) the least of his brothers and sisters. We need to question whether we use our God-given talents to serve humanity so that they yield fruits, or bury them like the lazy servant. In another sense, power or authority given to various leaders in civil society as well as in the Church and her religious institutions/ organizations is also a gift given by God. They can either use it for greater good or abuse it for personal gains or one’s own prosperity. Whichever way they use, they are accountable for it.
Fourthly, the word ‘talents’ could also be taken to include our bodily gifts such as various parts of the body; mental gifts such as mind, knowledge and wisdom; material gifts such as land and property; spiritual  gifts such as love, service, sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness, justice, peace, etc. How (for whom or for what) do we use them? For example, love must be given by showing active concern for others; peace should be established by reconciliation; mercy should be shown towards the needy and the erring; justice should be done to those who are oppressed; etc. Among mental faculties, human mind is the most marvellous gift. As Robin Sharma has put it: “The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master… (It) is truly like any other muscle in your body. Use it or lose it.” The question is whether we discipline our mind to make it our servant so that it becomes highly motivated to work for the welfare of others, and to use its potentials for building up God’s Kingdom. Or do we permit it to be our master that drives us to the confines of our own little and selfish world?
We are the stewards appointed by God to manage his goods and are called to cooperate with him actively to build up communities based on the Kingdom-values. God’s Kingdom can come only when we pass it on to others what we have received freely from God out of his bounty. If we use God’s gifts only for our selfish purposes, we fail to become like the first two good and trustworthy servants. As God’s stewards we are responsible and accountable to God whether we put all these gifts to proper and maximum use for his and humanity’s service, or keep them for ourselves. Faithful stewards (servants) are those who use all the gifts and talents given by God for others’ service; lazy ones are those who keep them idle or buried.
Unlike the third servant who took no risks at all, we have to take risks to put God’s gifts and talents into use rather than scrupulously preserving (burying) them. Like him we should not be so obsessed with our own security that we are not willing to venture into any risk, even a smaller one which does not put our life in danger. If we are constantly alert or vigilant to meet the Master at his return, naturally we shall not remain lazy but take bold and fruitful actions in favour of God’s Kingdom or its values. In other words, we shall carefully and diligently exercise our talents in service of humanity, especially of the poor and the marginalized. Hence, investment of our talents makes us vigilant and vigilance makes us translate our talents into fruitful service.
The third servant was after all not a bad character. He did not waste his master’s wealth in eating, drinking, merry-making, gambling, or in consumerism, such as going on acquiring the latest Smartphones from the market. He did not commit any sin either.  He is like those who do no harm to anybody; at the same time do not do any good either. He resembles those who observe all the rules or scrupulously preserve all the traditions but spend none of their resources, time and energy to look for the lost sheep, to bandage the wounds of the man fallen on the roadside, to stoop down to wash one another’s feet, etc. He also represents those who stick to the principle, “Old is gold” and oppose any change without bothering to redefine age-old traditions that are not in tune with the signs of the times. He also represents those who profess to be disciples of Christ or profess to follow him in a radical manner but fail to live their life with a difference. The main question the Eternal Auditor will ask at the end of our lives is: “How much of your resources, grits and talents did you use for the growth or promotion of my Kingdom?” Experts say that average persons use only 10% of their mind potentials and 90% are buried inside them. This is especially true when one gets everything freely even if one does not work, and is not made accountable for one’s non-performance.
What counts before God is our faithfulness in putting our talents into use and not the amount received. Like the first two servants who were given unequal (five and two) talents, God does not bestow on all of us necessarily equal gifts and talents, we are called to use whatever is given to us to the best of our ability and for God’s glory. Instead of comparing our talents with others and becoming jealous of the better gifts possessed by them we should think of our own personal responsibility to make the best use of our gifts. We may not be equal to others in talents but can be equal in our efforts. Then we too will be counted among the good and trustworthy servants of God. Sometimes faithful service may lead to increased responsibilities in God’s Kingdom.
How true is the dictum: “Risk nothing, lose everything.” Jesus says that all those who already have, more will be given, and those who nothing, even that will be taken away (25:29). If we do not put into service our gifts and talents, however little they may be, we risk losing them. For example, if we know how to play a musical instrument a little, if we teach the little we know to others, we become more experts in it besides helping others. Again, how true is the dictum, “Use it or lose it.”
5. Response to God's Word
Do we use God’s gifts and talents responsibly so that when the Lord comes to settle accounts with us we can hear from him: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant?” Is our faith in Christ for safekeeping or for investment? Should we not regret for the times we remained idle and failed to act when we came across so much suffering and misery or so many human needs in front of our eyes? Do we yield fruits like the faithful servants, or avoid all risks by burying our talents like the lazy servant? Are we proactive or passive Christians? Do we take some risks so that the Kingdom yields fruits, or preserve it as it is.
6. A prayer
Lord, make us your good and faithful servants. Grant that the investment of our talents for your and humanity’s service make us more and more vigilant for your coming. At the end of our life’s journey, may we be found worthy to get the reward of eternal joy with you, according to your promise. Amen.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

32nd Sunday of Year A

Thirty-second Sunday [Mt 25:1-13]
12 November 2017
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
Readings: (1) Wis 6:12-16 (2) 1Thess 4:13-18
1.  Theme in brief
Wisdom and foolishness in Christian life
2.  Focus Statement  
We ought to live our Christian life wisely with sufficient foresight and be prepared to meet Christ with the light of faith burning in our hearts even if he comes at an unexpected hour.
3.  Explanation of the text
Going beyond the strict understanding of a parable, this Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (or Virgins) hints at word for word meaning for its contents (as in an allegory): the bridegroom is Christ; his arrival is Parousia (that is, the second or final coming of Christ); the wise and foolish bridesmaids are the good and bad Christians waiting to meet Christ at Parousia; the wedding banquet is the joy of God’s Kingdom yet to come (heaven); the lamp seems to be our faith; and the oil are the good works or authentic Christian life. Some authors consider God’s grace as the oil which keeps the lamp of faith burning. Surprisingly, the bride is never mentioned in this parable; maybe because the Bridegroom (Christ) is the central figure here. But from the commonly used image of the NT, we can very well conclude that the bride’s presence is presupposed and she along with the other ten maidens are none other than the Church or Christian community waiting for the Lord to return.
The text says that among the bridesmaids who went to meet the bridegroom, five were foolish and five were wise (25:1-2). It points out the difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids: the former ones take the provision of oil for their lamps and the latter do not; the former know about the possibility of the bridegroom coming at any time (even at night), but the latter are sure that he will not come at night; and the former go with the bridegroom into the wedding banquet and the latter are shut out (25:10). The foolish virgins are foolish in many ways: they have plenty of opportunity to procure oil, but do not; whereas the wise ones do; they do not take their duty seriously; they are so forgetful, careless, negligent and lack foresight.
The main message of this parable is related to the main theme of Jesus’ preaching, namely, the Kingdom of God (or heaven as Matthew calls it). Those who respond to his message of the Kingdom with repentance and faith will be rewarded when it will finally come at the end of times (also called Parousia) and those who fail to do so will be totally rejected as the foolish virgins were. This parable probably serves as a warning to early Christians who hoped for an immediate Parousia. It tells them that the Lord may be delayed beyond their expectation and that they should prepare for the long wait reserving enough oil for their lamps. The return of the Lord – compared to the coming of the bridegroom to take his bride – is certain but the time is uncertain. Hence, the disciples should keep awake or be watchful always, for they know neither the day nor the hour of Parousia (25:13).
The Bridegroom is the Lord of surprises; he comes at midnight – the most unexpected time (25:6). The readiness of the wise virgins (25:10) indicates their preparedness to meet the Lord whenever he comes. His coming will separate the wise virgins from the foolish ones or those who are prepared from the unprepared ones.  The former ones will enjoy fellowship with the Lord and the latter will be rejected for ever. What a contrast: their joy and hope at the prospect and opportunity of meeting the bridegroom as maids of honour is suddenly shattered due to their lack of foresight. Once the Bridegroom arrives, there is neither the time nor the opportunity for the five foolish virgins to change their minds or make reparation for their negligence, carelessness and foolishness. There is a point of no return which cannot be reversed. Any amount of “Lord, lord, open to us” (25:11) will not work after the door is shut (25:10) – indicating that admission into God’s Kingdom is not automatic, just because one calls oneself a Christian. Jesus has already said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21).
4.  Application to life                     
As the liturgical year is coming to an end, the Church, through this gospel text, invites us to be prepared for the end of our lives or the end of the world by following the example of the wise virgins. The whole Church is like a Bride waiting to meet the heavenly Bridegroom when he comes at Parousia and to rejoice with him in the Kingdom of heaven. [Note: Here Matthew speaks about the future aspect of God’s Kingdom by beginning this parable: “Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like this,” 25:1]. Like the wise virgins we should persevere in good works to keep our faith alive. Christians who take their faith seriously and try to live by it are like the wise virgins and those who do not are like the foolish ones. We have to ask ourselves whether we are like the wise or foolish virgins in spiritual matters, or whether we live our Christian life wisely or foolishly, alertly or carelessly, and warmly or lukewarmly. It can happen that we get fed up of waiting for God and sleep over our duties. Just as the foolish virgins weren’t prepared for a long night of waiting and watching, we too can become careless to keep our faith burning brightly during the long waiting till Jesus returns or till the end of our lives. Lack of God’s miraculous intervention in our life (as we wish) may lead to tepidity (half-heartedness), routine and sleepiness (laxity and inactiveness).
Today we need to examine ourselves once again whether we are awake or asleep. Just like any wise driver who takes an extra wheel in his vehicle, foreseeing the possibility of getting a puncture in one of the tyres during the journey, we too need to apply similar farsightedness in spiritual growth and building up our character. None of us may want to hear these words at the end of our lives: “Truly I tell you the truth, I do not know you” (25:12). This is said of those who those who claim to be Christians only nominally, who go through certain religious rituals and traditions routinely, but do not take the values of the gospel as the norm of their lives. They only pretend to be what they actually are not. Hence, the gospel invites us to get rid of our spiritual complacency and take advantage of every opportunity we get to nourish our souls with God’s Word and sacraments, which give us the required energy to persevere in good works. Otherwise, we may get nothing after hoping for everything.
That all the ten virgins took lamps with them and were waiting for the bridegroom indicates, though all are Christians, some are so foolish that they do not possess oil. They have ‘lamps’ (faith) with them but lack ‘oil’ (good works or authentic Christian life). Due to lack of grace they are not able to oil their faith and progress in Christian character. Faith by itself, without good works, is dead (James 2:17) – the same as a lamp that has no oil in it. The folly of the foolish virgins consisted in their lack of foresight to think of the possibility of bridegroom coming late and not making provision for his delay. In this parable,  we are almost shocked at the selfishness or uncharitable behaviour of the wise virgins who refused to share their oil with those who begged for it (25:8). Good works, character and virtues can neither be borrowed nor be transferred to others, nor be obtained at the last minute. They need to be cultivated or earned with diligent efforts everyday by taking personal responsibility for our spiritual life and Christian commitment.
This parable further teaches us that we ought to keep the light of faith burning in our hearts till our heavenly Bridegroom comes to meet us at an unexpected hour. At any time in our life’s journey we may meet a serious crisis. When we enter into marriage/ religious life/ priesthood or take up any new responsibility or leadership roles, we do not know what challenges/ trials/ crises are awaiting us on the way. We should presuppose that there will be enough temptations on the way to be unfaithful, to slacken our initial enthusiasm and give up the fight. We need to apply the principle of foresight every now and then like the wise virgins to avoid evil and disaster by anticipating it in our minds or reflections. We need to ask ourselves whether we have the extra oil in reserve to resist the winds that may blow against our call and mission in life. In order to meet any crisis or eventuality on our life’s journey, like the wise virgins we need to be alert and make long-term preparation with sufficient reserve of oil. This oil is acquired by our contact with God, imbibing spiritual values and allowing them to be engraved in our hearts and building up our character day by day. Instead of doing so, we sometimes take it easy and neglect or postpone our duties. Carelessness in spiritual matters may make us easy victims to forces of evil and secular values.
Many of us suppose that only the foolish virgins slept off when the bridegroom delayed his arrival. But the text says clearly that all of them became drowsy and slept (25:5). At times, all of us sleep away our Christian life and commitment instead of living it. God gives us plenty of chances to mend our ways. But we cannot fool around for ever. Life is a serious venture and we must accept responsibility for our actions. Lack of farsightedness and preparedness may result in irreversible consequences like the foolish virgins. Once the door will be shut, any amount of knocking and pleading will not work. Once the opportunities pass us by due to our sleepiness, a sudden disaster may fall on us. Then it is useless to cry over spilt milk.
5.  Response to God's Word
Are we like the foolish virgins or wise ones who do not build their life purely on human resources and power? Do we live our Christian life wisely or foolishly, alertly or carelessly, and warmly or lukewarmly? Do we take our faith seriously and try to live by it like the wise virgins? Or are we nominal Christians who go through certain religious rituals and traditions routinely, but do not take the values of the gospel as the norm of our lives? Do we take advantage of every opportunity we get to nourish our souls with God’s Word and sacraments? Do we have sufficient foresight to keep spiritual stamina in reserve to resist the winds that may blow against our call and mission in life? Are we farsighted in spiritual growth and building up our character? What are the blunders we make due to our lack of farsightedness and preparedness to meet crises in life? In what way we neglect, postpone or sleep away our spiritual duties?
6.  A prayer
O heavenly Bridegroom, we are awaiting your second coming like a Bride with the light of faith burning in our hearts till we meet you. Come and receive us into your heavenly banquet. We regret for the times when we slept away our Christian life and commitment like the foolish virgins, instead of living it. Grant that we may be wise, shrewd and careful to carry out our spiritual duties and not foolish enough to build our life purely on human resources and power. Amen.