Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 6, 2005

St. Agnes, Cincinnati

(Based on Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)

“The bridegroom is here! Let us go out to greet him!”

Wouldn’t you, wouldn’t I, kike to know ahead of time precisely when the Lord will come again – whether at the end of the world or at the end of our own personal lives?

In these last few weeks as the liturgical year comes to a close the church focuses our attention on the end times. In chapters 24-25 of Matthew’s Gospel you can sense the anticipation of the early Christian community: what’s it going to be like? When is this ‘day of the Lord’?

Jesus had told them that it would be only a little while and he would come back to take them with him. And so they anticipated that it would happen during their own lifetimes. When they began to see some of their fellow believers dying off, they wondered how it would work out: who would rise first, those who had died or those still living at the soon-to-come time of the Lord’s return.

They had actually asked him, “Lord, when will all these things come to pass? What sign will there be of your coming?” It was their question then, and it is our questions over 2000 years later. When will all this happen? We look for signs, we want to know.

I think each of us lives with an illusion we don’t acknowledge. We imagine that if we only knew the hour we would be ready! Oh, if we were sure of it we’d have our long white robes on, we’d be clean as a whistle, and standing out at the curb just waiting for the chariot to come along and whisk us off to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Of course Jesus doesn’t give the disciples or us the kind of answer they were looking for. In fact, he tells them “of that day no one knows, even the Son, but only the Father.” He doesn’t give them an answer, but he doesn’t leave them in total darkness and confusion. Instead he gives them (and us) a set of mileposts; markers; a mind-set and a focus for our lives. They don’t give us the actual answer we’d like to have but they give us the tools to recognize the time when he comes.

In the Psalm we just read the psalmist pictures David out in the wilderness; in a desert. It is vividly described: “parched, lifeless, without water.” And he looks up. And there before him he sees the holy sanctuary, the shrine of God’s power and glory. He is thirsting, pining, longing in exile.

And that’s the first marker, the first mind-set, the first focus: do we really want to meet the Lord? Are we hungry and thirsty enough for God? Are we totally focused on that food and drink?

As I reflected on that image I was reminded of those images we have seen all too frequently on TV, the images of people starving in Darfur and other places of famine around our globe. When a truck or a plane appears bringing food, we are confronted with those crowds pushing and clawing their way to the front, totally intent on their salvation. But off in the corner of the screen we frequently see an even more disturbing sight, if that be possible. It is the faces of those who are so far gone that their eyes are empty. They can’t even comprehend what is happening. They wouldn’t be able to eat or drink even if someone gave it to them, because they are already dead internally. It’s too late. The door is locked.

Are we hungry enough? Thirsty enough?

Then in the Gospel story we are given the picture of the bridesmaids. The foolish ones say they want to be there to greet the bridegroom but they don’t want to take any genuine steps to get ready. That requires responsibility. And then it’s too late. The second milestone: are we intent enough to prepare for the Lord?

And in the book of Wisdom we hear of those who love wisdom, who desire her and seek her. We’re told they go out and watch for her “at dawn.” Dawn is a symbol of absolute priority, of putting the search before all else. They scan the horizon, ceaselessly. It’s a third marker: do we have that kind of anticipation and eagerness and alertness? Do we scan the horizon of our worlds, constantly asking “where is the Lord?”

Because if we do, the readings reveal something most extraordinary to us. We think we are alone on watch — when in reality wisdom in already on the search — for us! The seeker is told “You will find her sitting by your gate!” How close can God get? Wisdom is so near you could pass her by without even noticing.

The answer to the question “when will it all happen?” is that we do not need to go off on a long journey to some exotic place. It has already happened. The end has already come. The bridegroom is here. Now.

All around us in our country today we hear of fundamentalists getting people all in a dither about the final days. They get people all lathered up about The Rapture. There are the Left Behind books and films and videos. The Lord is about to snatch you up and it’s on to glory. There’s no sign of the poor in that message. Whereas the message of Jesus is so much more down to earth – but also so much more demanding.

But if the bridegroom has already come, how are we to see him, how are we supposed to recognize him?

The answer, the final touchstone, comes in the parable which will complete Matthew’s chapter 25. It’s the real answer to the original question. We will see him when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, when we clothe those who are naked and visit those in prison. When we comfort the afflicted, when we watch over our children and sit by the bed of the lonely and walk tenderly with our aged parents.

We may not even recognize him then. But his voice will speak within us: “as long as you do it for these least ones you do it to me.” Appreciate that and the end times have already come. Let others settle for the Rapture.