The wise and the foolish.

Wisdom 6, 12 - 16 + 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-18 + Matthew 25, 1-13

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Today's Gospel reminds us to stay awake -- be prudent -- be prepared, echoing the beautiful words of the song of Wisdom in the first reading -- "Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom. . . for taking thought of her is the perfection of prudence, and he who for her sake keeps vigil shall be quickly free from care."

Thus, the wise are those who are constantly prepared to meet their Lord. They are prudent in material and spiritual affairs. They look ahead, seek to discern what is important, and are conscious of their place in a supernatural reality.

The Church has been reading this parable at Mass for a very long time, and it seems useful to think about the placement of this reading in the season of the time. The Roman Rite evolved in the northern hemisphere, and November is the time just before the depths of winter. For much of history, the time before winter could be anxious. If the harvests were thin, or had failed, they were looking at winter without much in their cupboards to tide them through. They didn't have supermarkets or convenience stores open 24 hours a day. They ate what they grew or caught, and if they didn't grow or catch anything, they were in trouble.

We don't have that problem these days. In October, we don't plan what we will eat in February, because we trust in the Gods of the Corporate Marketplace to fulfill our every need. We see them as being much more reliable than that old Yahweh character. They brings us food from the four corners of the earth, and we care not a sun-ripened fig for the people who may be going hungry in poor countries so that we can have fresh lettuce and tomatoes in our supermarkets in January. Our wealth has made it possible for us to abandon the practice of eating with the season. Our feelings teach us that if we can do it, we ought to do it, and we never think of just how immature and juvenile this idea is.

We are daily encouraged in this practice by corporations whose landholdings were secured and often defended by the United States military. Their lands are worked by the descendants of the original owners, who are now serfs. Worse than serfs, actually, because at least a feudal lord acknowledged some responsibilities to his serfs, whereas the modern transnational corporation sees them as one more resource to exploited until depleted, and then tossed aside when no longer profitable for the stockholders.

We aren't interested in knowing much about the provenance of those tomatoes, or the problems of those who picked them. We are the Americans! Our convenience is so much more important than their misery! We deserve those tomatoes, we are beautiful people. They deserve whatever it is that they have left after we have taken what we want. We are like the foolish virgins flying out the door, going to wake somebody up in the middle of the night because we had not the foresight to be proper stewards of our material possessions.

But pride goeth before a fall. The foolish ones still get left behind, they show up way late and the door is locked. As Jesus said on many occasions, "Let those who have ears to hear, hear."

There is a connection between how we manage our temporal stewardship and how ready we are to meet the Bridegroom when he comes to our door. If we selfishly abuse those gifts so that others are hurt, if we oppress the poor by taking advantage of them because we have the power and wealth to do so, are we not dead asleep with empty lamps when the wedding party arrives? Is it possible that because of our selfish exploitations of the poor, that we will find the door locked when we knock upon it? "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor, will themselves also call and not be heard."

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