In this beautiful homily for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly teaches us about wisdom.
Readings for Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
- Second Reading: First Thessalonians 4:13-17 or 4:13-14
- Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
The First Reading is a very famous episode from the Book of Wisdom.
Some of you might not know this, but the Book of Wisdom is part of the Hebrew Old Testament but it is not included in all the Old Testament of the Jewish people and so, while we have it in the Old Testament and we include it, there are many, especially among our Protestant brethren, who do not have this lovely Book of Wisdom.
And it’s a bit of a shame because, come funeral times and times like that, some of the most beautiful passages of the Bible are from the Book of Wisdom.
Anyhow, the first part of the story is to remind us about wisdom. And wisdom was very, very important and that’s why a woman is given the title of the wise lady.
Apparently they feel, and I think it’s very true, that wisdom, in the Jewish sense of the word, wisdom means much, much more when it is compared to a woman than with a man.
Men, we usually have warriors and people who go out and fight and do all these kinds of very important things. But the women are the heart, really, of the family, and they always will be the heart of the kindness and compassion of God.
And so, when the writer sits down to write this passage about the Book of Wisdom, he personalises it and calls it “she,” and this is very lovely.
To become a wise man in those days didn’t mean to go to a university and gather a whole lot of knowledge like we can do with computers and kind of rise ourselves up in the eyes of the people. Wisdom was much more important than gathering information.
Wisdom meant that someone had common sense. They knew how to use themselves to help people, to care for people, to be very important within the community. For wisdom meant that you were practically very, very good at leading the ordinary daily life and leading it well.
Now, this was the ideal. The prophets were prophets and the kings were kings, but nobody took them quite as seriously as a man or a woman with wisdom.
It meant that whatever you do, no matter where you do it, how you do it, you do it well and you do it with a good spirit and a lot of prudence. And you were admired by people and practical problems of life were brought to you because you were a wise man or a wise woman.
My favourite story, which some of you have probably heard about, is the little old wise man sitting in the village and a young man comes in to him and he says, “Little old wise man, how do you become a little old wise man?”
And he smiled and he said, “Well, Sonny, when I was your age, I wanted to convert the world.
“And I tried my best, but the world didn’t want to be converted.
“And so I said, well maybe I’m aiming too high, so what I’ll try to do, this time, is my village. I will bring my village so that they will understand the realities of life. And I will give them the wisdom and gather them together and show them how they can be saved.
“And I tried it for a while, but they didn’t want to be saved either.
“So then I said, well, I’ll try my family. And so I talked to my family and tried very hard to change their ways, to make them perfect in the ideal way that we should all be.
“And I found out that even my family didn’t want to have anything to do with this.
“So, finally,” he said to the young man, “finally, I decided I would convert myself.
“And that’s when I became a little old wise man.”
Very good advice. If you’re talking about wisdom, you’re not supposed to change everybody else, you begin with your own heart and your own soul.
And, of course, being humble minded now, what happens is God uses you, as He uses all humble people, to bring the brilliance and beauty of all that He has created together.
That’s the first part of today’s little lesson is that we are all called to carry lamps, for the second part is what happens to the Ten Virgins.
And you have to know a little bit about wedding ceremonies in that day, which are not totally unlike the wedding ceremonies you will find through Hong Kong.
First of all, there are, and very important, there are the bridesmaids.
Now there are ten bridesmaids. And they are the ones who must, when the bridegroom comes, they must light their lamps — because it will be in the evening time in the darkness — and lead the procession.
They go out first to meet the bridegroom and then they lead him to the place where the wedding will take place with all the people following them. So they are very important, the bridesmaids.
Now the problem is that five of the bridesmaids do not bring enough oil. They brought enough oil for the ordinary evening and then when everybody went to sleep — the groom was tardy and he came much later, around midnight — they ran out of oil and they didn’t have any refills.
But the wise girls, they brought enough little vials, in case it might go on all night, they had enough oil.
These are the wise ones. The other ones are the foolish ones.
Now the foolish ones said to the wise ones at midnight — when everybody woke up suddenly because the cry went out that the bridegroom was here and so they said, “What are we going to do for oil?” so they asked the wise ones — they said, “Now, why don’t you give us some of yours?”
And, of course, the wise ones — you can’t give that oil away because then nobody, it would all be dark, there’d be no procession so — they said, “No, you go into the town and you buy some oil for yourself.”
Now, of course, while they were away, the bridegroom and his entourage of men, they came, and the girls went out to meet him — the five wise girls went out to meet him — and they trimmed their lamps and he led them to the hall where the great banquet was to take place. And when they were settled, everything was done very nicely.
And then, finally, the five poor girls that didn’t have any oil came back and they came running up and they were outside the door.
And the door was already locked, so they yelled inside, “Please come. We’re here. We’re here for the party.”
And, of course, the bridegroom looks up at them and he says these terrible words. This is a huge village celebration and he looks out at these poor little five and he says, “I don’t even know who you are.” And he doesn’t open the door for them.
And that’s how the story ends, except that Jesus says to them that, he says words that, “You should do and prepare what you have to do and prepare. Under any circumstances you have to be ready to welcome the bridegroom at a party.”
Now, remember, this is a parable.
What is a parable?
I’ve told you before: a parable is an open-ended story. This is not supposed to be an actual happening. It’s a story with parts in it and so everybody plays their part.
If you are a zealous kind of person — always helpful and you know your duty, and when they make you a bridesmaid, you do your duty and you’re responsible and you care and you’re waiting for people to tell you what to do so you can make this celebration wonderful — that’s the kind of bridesmaid.
But if you’re sort of a bridesmaid that says, “Easy come, easy go. We’ll go to the party and maybe go home early and take a few things in, ta da, ta da,” then what happens is it’s not the bridegroom’s fault, it’s their fault.
They didn’t take it seriously.
But what are we talking about? What are they supposed to take seriously?
Well, Jesus would say you must take your life seriously.
It’s not supposed to be, “Well, easy come, easy go, we’ll do this, we’ll do that.” You’re supposed to live the light of God. You’re supposed to live it. You’re not supposed to just say, “Oh, I’ll come on Sunday and then we’ll go someplace here, blah blah blah,” and whatever it is.
If you don’t, what will happen?
If you don’t, you’ll miss the party.
And what is the party?
The party is God calling all mankind to Himself and saying, “Welcome, in honour of the bridegroom, who is Jesus the Lord, we are going to celebrate, now and for all time, this wonderful meeting and locking up by Jesus to God the Father.” And it is, from beginning to end, a feast of love.
I still feel a bit sad for the poor girls that are left.
Does that mean that if you don’t be super kind of responsible that God doesn’t love you anymore or that God is going to dump you out in the dark?
No. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean that at all.
What Jesus is saying is this: be it ever so humble, your life is called. God has called you into the love and life that you could only dream of by yourself.
You are His people. You are to understand your own dignity, your own value, your own worth. You’re not supposed to just scrub around with it and toss it here and there. You must live it.
And what will happen?
If you live it the way you’re supposed to live it, if you live it like Jesus lives it, you become someone who cares, someone who loves, someone who forgives, someone who looks out for the needy and the poor, someone who really understands the full meaning of life.
That life is to be lived, not on a merry-go-round, or at a party, or highs and lows, and look at your own work as being dull and boring and waiting for the weekends and all of that.
Jesus is saying to have the fire of his light within your own heart can light up the whole world.
Whether it’s a boring old job in a business place where you feel there are people there who are to experience your kindness, your goodness, your cheerfulness, you are the ones who bring the light of God Himself to whatever you do.
There is nothing that a human being does that shouldn’t bring joy to their hearts, because they are made to serve others. We are made to serve each other.
And I’ll close with this with my favourite person in Wah Fu Chuen.
You know I was in Wah Fu Chuen for many years. And I would come very early in the morning for Mass, because in Wah Fu Chuen the sisters had an early Mass and they had a school there.
And as you know, Wah Fu Chuen was really a tough place. It was an immigrant place, basically, and people there were all poor, which made it very joyful, you know.
If everybody’s poor, it’s okay. If everybody’s rich, it’s okay. But if some on the top of the hill are rich and the people at the bottom of the hill are poor, it’s not okay. And that’s kind of a little bit like…
So when you went into Wah Fu, you had this built in…
I mean their circumstances were seven people to a room, remember, and running water maybe and running water sometimes, and they would have maybe Grandpa, Grandma, the children, all in that one room.
And for some reason, I don’t know why, they were the happiest group that I have ever been with.
And I think it has something with when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” because they know their need for each other.
Not God. Yes, of course they know their need for God, but they know their need for each other. And they’re a little bit more kind to each other and a little bit more caring to each other, because they depend on it for life itself.
Anyhow, to get back to my favourite lady, there used to be a lady, when I walked down the stairs on my way to say Mass in the schoolyard, and her job was to take care of the garbage.
You can imagine the garbage in this place. They used to bring all the garbage in the evening and they’d put it in this one place and just dump it all around. And her job was to tidy up the garbage. That was her job. And it came from all the housing estate.
And I’d look at her, and she’d be busy there, and I’d say to her, “Ah Tai. How are you?”
“Oh great, Father, great! Yes, it’s wonderful. Isn’t it a nice day, no rain today.” And here she’s just putting garbage into garbage and piling it up.
And I had this funny feeling. Day after day, I’d go down there and have this little chat. And every time I left her, my heart was full of joy, because this lady could make garbage safe. She did it with such … She knew that …
Now, I’ll tell you, this is also true, the only person in all of Wah Fu Chuen that was necessary, totally necessary to everybody in Wah Fu Chuen, was the lady who tidied up the garbage and put it away, because, if she went, the whole of Wah Fu Chuen would be covered with garbage.
So her job was vital and she was vital, because she did everything with great feeling in her heart that she, at her old age (this lady’s in her sixties or seventies), could serve the community and had a place in the community, and she was quite happy.
And I’ll always remember her as my favourite garbage lady.
God does not make garbage. Human beings make garbage.
But God sends them a little lady like this to know that, even if your job is to save the world through being tidy and putting all this mess together, then you are indeed a child of God, an heir of heaven, and one that we can all emulate no matter what our job is.
For we are here to serve. And when we serve, we become the children of God. And when we don’t serve, then it is a sadness.
Because the server knows the joy of serving and the person who refuses to serve his fellow man has nothing but a dull pain at the end of a very boring day.