Homily for Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Chapter twenty-five of St. Matthew’s Gospel details the last public preaching of Jesus. St. Matthew includes three parables in this chapter, one of which we hear today – the Parable of the Ten Virgins. This particular parable is peculiar to St. Matthew’s Gospel as it is not included in the other three Gospels. It is also somewhat difficult to listen to this parable because it is clear from the outset that the five so-called “foolish” virgins are excluded from the wedding banquet despite the fact that they did nothing wrong. However, while they did not commit any sin of commission, they are guilty of one important part of discipleship; namely, they failed to be ready for the return of the bridegroom.
While this may be viewed as a rather harsh punishment for their lack of readiness, we must also realize that because it appears at the very end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, St. Matthew is driving home a very important point. In the very next chapter of the Gospel, we will read of the beginning of the last days of Jesus. Failure to understand his message at this point simply cannot be overlooked. Jesus has told many stories, entered into many discussions, and preached five rather long sermons in St. Matthew’s Gospel. If we keep in mind that it was St. Matthew’s purpose in writing this Gospel to show that Jesus was the “New Moses,” we immediately see the similarity here between the five discourses of Jesus and the first five books of the Bible. Just as the Torah or Pentateuch, as the first five books are known, are the foundation for the old covenant, the five sermons in St. Matthew’s Gospel provide us with a foundation for the new covenant.
The point about being ready is made in several different ways throughout the Gospel. The very last parable, which appears at the end of this chapter, speaks of the return of Jesus to judge the nations. In that parable he separates the sheep from the goats. Once again, we have to say that those who are excluded from the kingdom are not accused of any wrongdoing. They are simply accused of ignoring people who are in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the sick, and the naked. Over and over again, we have heard Jesus tell us that we cannot sit idly by and simply wait. We must be active in spreading the gospel message throughout the world.
Each and every day, we hear the Gospel proclaimed. It is not by accident that every Eucharist includes an exposure to the Scriptures, particularly to the Gospels. The five wise virgins in today’s parable have listened attentively and are ready for the return of the bridegroom. Let us always remember that this is our responsibility as well.