Sunday the Thirty-second

Let my prayer come before You, Lord; listen and answer me (Psalm 87:3).

My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. (Psalm 63).

“Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish (μωραὶ, morai) and five were wise (φρόνιμοι, phronimoi). The foolish ones (μωραὶ, morai), when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise (φρόνιμοι, phronimoi) brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy (ἐνύσταξαν, enustazan) and fell asleep (ἐκάθευδον, ekatheudon). (Matthew 25:1-5).”

Last Sunday evening as I checked the readings for this Sunday a thought quickly came to mind (not necessarily to heart) regarding the tension between wisdom and foolishness. Some random thoughts about the Greek ideal of wisdom (σοφία, sophia) started to gel with Wisdom as one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this vein, Wisdom (σοφία, sophia) is an antidote for choices that are, at the bottom line, simply stupid. ‘Ah, thought enough for a day,’ I thought to myself last Sunday evening: ‘I have ‘something’ to ponder for the week in preparation for Sunday’s homily. Eventually in the course of the week, I opened the Greek New Testament ‘just to check’ (after all, I had ‘my’ thought and was comfortable running with it for Sunday). I was a bit perplexed as I perused the text. ‘Where’s sophia?’ It was nowhere to be found in Sunday’s Gospel text. Sure, the English translation presents the ‘wise’ virgins, but they were not ‘sophia’ virgins they were ‘phronimoi’ virgins. The Sacred Scriptures once again taught me a lesson that I drive home to undergraduates, deacon candidates and seminarians: the Text, the Text, the Text! Never presume, as I did last Sunday evening, anything about the Sacred Text without digging deeply.

Once again, the sitz im Leben for Jesus’ Parable is first-century Ancient Near East wedding practices (“Sitz im Leben” is a worthwhile phrase to know. It is a German phrase that means “situation in life.” It was a term coined by German biblical scholars towards the end of the nineteenth century in an effort to accentuate the importance of the historical, cultural, societal, etc. background influencing episodes, events and teachings in the Sacred Scriptures. By anchoring a person, place, thing or event in its historical context it helps as ONE of the tools in getting to the saving message that God intended the human agents to record). Check the blog entry from a few weeks ago that examined wedding practices in the first century. In summary for purposes of this Sunday’s Text it is important to recall that big differences exist between how we celebrate weddings today and how they were celebrated in the world and time of Jesus. Important for this week’s proclamation is the fact that the wedding ceremony in Jesus’ day was determined by the completion of all preparations on the groom’s part (and to varying degrees, assistance from his father). Some historical evidence suggests that it was the groom’s father who gave the ‘OK’ that all was ready for the wedding to commence. Our practice is to ‘set the date’ and work towards that set time for the wedding celebration. In our day, Bride, Groom, attendants, family, friends and all kinds of invited guests show up (hopefully on time!) at the appointed time at the designated place. In Jesus’ day, one did not ‘show up’ at a wedding; you waited to hear the voice of the bridegroom announcing that all was ready for the celebration. One and all lived in expectation of the groom’s voice, especially the bride and her close friends and attendants. Here is where the Greek word ‘phronimoi’ is important in this week’s biblical proclamation.

φρόνιμος (phronimos) in the Greek world centered on intellectual activities, particularly “thinking” and “reasoning.” Thinking and reasoning, as activities of the mind, were directed towards understanding or grasping the workings of one’s world. For Aristotle, this type of thinking and reasoning informed one’s actions and was the beginning or foundation of a life of virtue. Knowing and understanding what was expected of oneself as a citizen came not only from what was taught (from without), but also from one’s capacity for thought and reason (from within). Phronimos in this context was ordered towards a more practical side of knowledge. Phronimos did not dabble so much in the ‘what ifs’ of life but more so in an exploration of knowledge that immediately impacted living life now with its pressing demands. As such, it might be better to translate “phronimos” as “smart,” “clever” or even “future/forward thinking.” This is not to say that “wisdom” per se is incorrect in the translation. The fact is, however, that the Greek word often associated with the Holy Spirit’s Gift, namely “Wisdom (σοφία, sophia)” is not used in this parable.

An even stronger case can be made for viewing phronimos in the context of knowledge ordered to acting in the here-and-now. A handful of patristic era writers take up the question as to why there are 10 maidens in the Parable. While some make allegoric references to the 10 Commandments, Saint Augustine takes a different approach, albeit allegoric as well. In Sermon 93, the saintly Bishop of Hippo notes that there are 5 senses of the body for doing good and 5 senses of the body for doing wrong. Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching can be used ‘in a smart way’ that promotes virtuous living. These same 5 senses can be used ‘in a foolish way’ that promotes aimless or dissolute living. Phronimos is the ‘smart’ or ‘future thinking’ that knows an action done or not done in the present will have a consequence, virtuous or foolish, in the future. In the Parable with the translation many of us will here this Sunday, what makes the “wise” virgins “wise”? It is their ‘smart’ or ‘forward thinking’ that enables them to have enough oil for their torches when the groom arrives. Scholars note that in Jesus’ day that while people thought this would be the day or that would be the day for the wedding, all knew there could be some difficulties with the father of the groom and bride working out details. Sometimes there was a snag in the arrangements that caused a delay in the start of the wedding festivities (think of the limousine breaking down while transporting the bride to Church!). The smart thing to do is to know these things can happen and to plan and be prepared for consequences that delays pose.

In terms of Christian living, there is certainly a meaning of the Parable that points to Jesus’ arrival at the end of time. As all in the town know that the groom will eventually arrive, the Christian must come to terms in her or his life the REALITY of Jesus’ Return - not only His definitive Return at the end of the ages, but also His Return to each of us when each is called to give an accounting for how we have used our 5 senses to become more like Him. Each of us can ask, have I heard His Word and responded accordingly? Have I seen Jesus, particularly in the poor, and acted towards that person as if I were acting towards Jesus? Have I been moved by the fragrance of the Spirit’s anointing in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders to witness and to serve as Jesus teaches? Have I tasted Jesus often in the Holy Eucharist and allowed that taste to move me to remedy the hungers of the human family? Have I touched another with the healing hand of Jesus or with a manipulative fist of oppressive power? Being smart (phronimos) in the Lord involves ‘forward thinking’ because His Return is a fact. His Return is not a fearful premise for smart behavior but a recognition of the Gift He wishes us to have on His Return ... a thought to explore next week after digging deeply into that Text.

Almighty Father,
strong is Your justice and great is Your mercy.
Protect us n the burdens and challenges of life.
Shield our minds from the distortion of pride
and enfold our desire with the beauty of Truth.
Help us to become more aware of Your loving designate
so that we may more willingly give
our lives in service to all.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment