November 8, 2020
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)
The power nap.
Fifteen quick minutes in the late afternoon can battle back the post-lunch weariness of the busy worker, the stay-at-home parent or the student facing a term-paper deadline, especially while being cloistered in the house during the Covid-19 epidemic. While fifteen minutes is no siesta, it’s enough to restore vitality for the final push of the day.
But as for real effective snoozing, look no further than the black bear. Research is beginning to unpack the amazing slumber skills of these animals. They hibernate for up to four months during the winter, without ever waking up to eat, drink, relieve themselves or exercise. And while the catatonic inactivity of hibernating bears may drop their heart rate to as low as six beats per minute, they still burn an amazing 4,000 calories per day!
But what is truly amazing about these power-nappers is the ability to emerge from hibernation faster and stronger than a combat Humvee on a cold day — at almost the same level of physical strength and stamina as when they started their season-skipping siesta. Through daily regimens of muscle stimulation and contraction, bears are able to both maintain their constant body temperature and keep their massive muscles in working shape.
Take a person who is sick and bedridden for two months, his muscles will have become listless from passivity. Or take a football player and ask them to execute with the same precision and ability at training camp in July as they did in the playoffs in January. No way.
But hibernating bears? Their spell of complete inactivity is offset by the amazing ability to efficiently maintain their strength. So come spring, they bound out of their den at full speed ready to eat about anything in sight.
Four months off and good as new. That’s a true power nap. The way life is sometimes, I wouldn’t mind having the same ability!
Now researchers are hoping to learn the science behind the regenerating-while-napping black bear, hoping to apply their findings to the bedridden or to those with degenerative neuromuscular diseases. But while the deep sleep of hibernation is great for bears and may one day impact medical therapy, not all slumber is equally beneficial.
Fall asleep on Jesus, and you may not emerge feeling so rested and refreshed.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he used parables with illustrations from everyday life to make his point. In Matthew 25, he tells the story of 10 temperamental single virgins who go out to meet a prospective bridegroom. But the groom is running late, and so they all nod off for a while ... a power nap before the courting begins.
Eventually the Bachelor arrived, but not every Bachelorette got a rose that night. While all were eager for the opportunity to meet a potential quality mate, only five were eligible and invited to the party.
Now we know that Jesus was able to nap, even while frothy seas stormed around him (Luke 8:23). And the issue in this story is not the fact that the bridesmaids napped as well, because all 10 did so. The issue is that only five woke up prepared and ready to go in the middle of the night. Jesus is warning against bad kingdom catnaps; hibernating without remaining strong and ready to go.
As Christians living 2,000 years after the first coming of Christ, it might be too easy to forget that His second coming could happen on a day when we do not expect Him and at an hour we are not aware of. Winter will change to spring, and then there will be no more time for sleeping.
Unfortunately, our day goes by and we assume Jesus has not come. There have been no apocalyptic fireworks, no trumpets sounding, no clouds parting. No Parousia. No pileups on the freeways. No airplanes tumbling out of the skies. None of that.
But maybe Jesus came today, and we were so asleep that we didn’t notice, and if we were awake, our lamps were so dim that we couldn’t see Him.
Jesus was here today. Jesus was here yesterday. And Jesus is going to be here tomorrow.
So where will we find Him?
If we’re awake and alert, if our lamps are trimmed to shed some light, we’ll see Jesus in the prisons, along the highways, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, at the food bank, in the soup kitchen, at the office, in the hospital, and so on.
But if we’re lazy, if we’re sleepy, if we’ve lost muscle tone — there’s no chance that we’ll ever see Jesus.
Jesus warned against not being ready when He comes.
Five snooty virgins were ready. Five whiny virgins were un-bear like. They emerged from their hibernation and they weren’t prepared for the advent of the bridegroom. They had to run off to the market to buy oil in order to prepare their lamps for meeting him.
Are we so complacent with life as we currently have it that we don’t think Jesus will come in our lifetime? How prepared are we for the coming of the Lord? Can we awake during this delay prepared to meet Him, or must we still scramble to get pretty and party-worthy?
To do so, we’ve got to keep the lamps trimmed. Putting our spiritual lives in order is not something to be put off till a later day. The day to be ready for the bridegroom is today and not tomorrow.
So, what is the oil we are short of? How might we scramble around to get ready for confronting Christ today?
Oil in Scripture is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Maybe we try to spring into action without submitting our work, our intentions, our purpose to the Holy Spirit so that God’s Spirit can fill our deeds with power and effectiveness.
Maybe we’re short of the oil of kindness and compassion. Maybe we’re short of the oil of patience and long-suffering. To be prepared for the party, we’re to trim our lamps daily.
But aren’t we used to plenty of second chances? Kids cry out “do-overs” if they don’t like the outcome of a game played with friends. High-school students can retake the SAT to improve their scores. The delete key on our computers quickly offers the chance to “ficks meestakes” (bad spelling intentional) that an old typewriter never could. In fact, the love and grace of God offer plenty of second chances ... even seven times 70 chances if necessary.
But there is an eventual end point at which these second chances are no more. Lazarus knew it. One of the thieves on the cross knew it. And Jesus obviously knew it as well. When the bridegroom does return, the opportunities to prepare for him are no longer available.
Jesus sounds a loving warning: “Live a spiritual life that is already prepared for my return.”
How then do we respond to this parable?
We might take a spiritual inventory of our lives. What areas can we see that would be like the untrimmed lamp? What oil do we need to go and buy now? In our devotional lives ... in our workplace ... in our friendships with pre-Christians ... in the way we treat our families ... in the choices we make when nobody else is looking?
The parable illustrates a deep reality for us as believers. Not only do we need to be expecting God’s call at any moment, but we also need to prepare spiritually by leading lives bolstered by spiritual works of service. Christ calls us to possess an active faith, not a passive one.
Because it’s a metaphor, eventually it’s going to break down when held up to the light of other parables and teachings of Jesus. For instance, a bunch of snooty virgins not sharing and another group of whiny virgins getting locked out of the party doesn’t seem to jive with the parable of the lost sheep or the very clear teaching, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
The symbolism we already know; the bridegroom represents Christ, and the bride represents the Church (all churches). The virgins are those ready in the Church. The oil is the embodiment of good works (sacrifice, obedience, prayer, etc.). The wise virgins are Christians who have nourished their faith and bolstered the Church community by living lives characterized by good works. The foolish virgins are those who are Christians, but only intellectually. They have failed to nourish their faith with prayer, penance, and sacrifice for others. Those who consider religion as “private,” fall into this last category. Christ calls us to be active and to live and show our faith. As I have often said in the past, “Catholicism is a way of life, not just a religion.” We have to live it, not keep it private and hence not be ready.
As for the snooty wise virgins who won’t share their oil when the time comes; they don’t share their oil with the foolish virgins because they now can’t. When it comes to our immortal souls, each person’s salvation is his or her own responsibility. No attempt to borrow on the good works of others can make up for our lack of active faith throughout your own life. We can’t transfer some of our soul’s credit to another soul.
When the busy week is over and we are getting ready to go to a party at a friend’s house, that is a good thing. It is fun anticipation. There is no motivation of panic or obligation. We look forward to the community of friends we will be with and we anticipate the festivities that we are getting ready for.
Jesus didn’t tell a parable of 10 virgins preparing for a dreaded IRS tax audit. It was a party. And the party Jesus calls us to is worth getting ready for ... it will be a banquet of unending satisfaction.
Although we should take a lesson from the black bear and always wake up prepared to go. But the next time someone tells you this parable is only about how we need to “stay awake,” you can perform a work of mercy and let them know it’s also about keeping our faith alive and active, not passive. It’s about living out your Catholic faith, not simply saying a private prayer here and there.
Oh, and tell them they can’t borrow any of your oil! (Wink, wink)
Let us pray.
We are reminded in today’s Gospel that we know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord will call us to His divine presence. We pray that we always remain aware of this and be prepared to meet Him joyfully when He call us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that, like the wise bridesmaids in today’s parable, we keep the light of the Gospel forever burning so that we and those who come after us will see the true light and follow Jesus into the Lord’s banquet in Heaven. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those who are enduring mental stress and hardship due to Covid -19 restrictions and lockdown, that in their darkest moments the love and care of friends and neighbors may bring them relief and peace of mind. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the people of our nation that, at this time, we are blessed with peace, tolerance and unity of purpose so that we can repair the divisiveness manifesting in our midst. We pray to the Lord.
For newly elected leaders, especially President Elect Joseph Biden, that they may rely on God’s divine law as a source of wisdom and build a spirit of cooperation that promotes peace and healing in our country. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
O patient and ever-present God, shake us from the slumber of apathy and routine, and awaken us to the promise of this day, fresh and full of possibility. Ground us in your presence and steadfast love; center us in the knowledge of your grace. Kindle in us a new excitement for this awesome journey to which you call us.
Help our nation to accept the election results with humility and dignity and wipe away the stay of accusations, and disappointed loses. Help us to know that democracy is only successful when we exercise the rights afforded by our constitution and accept the results of our fellow Americans who voted along side of us. Now is a time to heal and grow. There is more to what guides us than divides us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the journey, and the guide. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars – As the epidemic continues (and even increases again) we continue to need your help. The virus keeps people away and thus donations are down, and bills pile up! Please helps, if you can, to keep our ministry alive and vibrant so that there is a place for the those needing respite from a troubled world! God Bless You +++