The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Matthew 25: 1-13
1 Thes 4:1-8/Ps 97:1-2,5-6,10-12

…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 and five were wise.
(Mt. 25:1-2)

Keep watch, we do not know the hour
The Bridegroom comes, and lamps grow dim;
He comes in majesty and pow’r,
Have we prepared ourselves for Him?

(Jesus said), “This is what will happen in the kingdom of heaven. Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ So, stay awake, for you do not know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13

Reflection

The Parable of the Ten Virgins can be interpreted in many ways, and the length of messages and lessons that we can glean from it might be many times longer than the story. First of all, our Lord uses a wedding scene to emphasize the permanence of marriage. Then, unlike previous parables which showed the dichotomy of good and evil, this one presents a distinction between the wise and the foolish, where the foolish share the same fate as the damned. Third, the process of salvation entails a long wait and only those who are patient, vigilant and well-prepared will be rewarded. Finally, it is only by being filled with the Holy Spirit that our faith can be sustained.

God is love, and what better way to present the loving relationship of God with His people than a wedding parable, symbolizing the perpetual covenant of God with His bride, the Church. But our Lord also uses this parable to warn the complacent that simply being members of the church does not guarantee our personal salvation. All the ten virgins shared the same beliefs, symbolized by the lamps they carried. But five of them were foolish, lacking a sufficient outpouring of the Holy Spirit, (the oil). Only those who are wise know that a continuous supply of God’s Spirit is necessary to keep the flame of faith burning, especially in times of turbulence and darkness.

Life beyond middle age can be a punishing struggle against many kinds of disease. That is, unless one prepared well for this eventuality during his younger years by a regular cardio-vascular exercise like jogging, avoiding harmful substances such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco, and keeping a healthy, balanced diet. If vigilance and preparedness then is so important for one’s retirement age, (20 to 30 years?), shouldn’t life eternal be far more worth preparing for even in one’s whole lifetime? Jesus said, “The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.” (Lk.6:49) If we failed to prepare the foundation for a healthy life in our younger years, it is not yet too late to build a better foundation for the life eternal. No one else can build it for us. Salvation is non-transferable. When death comes, there is no second chance.

“The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies or drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry or jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Rom.13:12-14) Thank You, Lord God, for Your constant and loving reminders. May Your Holy Spirit fill us with Your grace of wisdom. Amen.

Anticipate His Coming

Matthew 24:42-51
1 Thess 3:7-13 / Psa 90

If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
Matthew 24:43

Let not our will by sin be swayed,
Be resolute and firm in Christ;
His judgment will not be delayed,
Be steadfast to receive His prize.

(Jesus said to His disciples,) “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed be that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour, and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24: 42-51)

Reflection

Jesus chose not to reveal His Second Coming in order to test our fidelity, and so that all His followers will be constantly prepared – not necessarily to watch for His return – but to guard against complacency and negligence, and against the devious schemes and traps of the evil one. All Christians believe in the Resurrection at the last day, because this is the hope nurtured by our faith in God’s Word. But God does not want us to just sit and wait; He wants us to be on our toes, ready at all times to spring into action when it is called for.

How are we expected to be vigilant at all times? First of all, by our daily meditation with God in fervent prayer. Temptation does not come near to a person who is absorbed in deep prayer. Secondly, by meditative reading of the Word of God, especially the Gospels. We may not be conscious of it at first, but the indwelling Spirit will bring the power of the Holy Scriptures into our lives once we make reading the Bible a daily habit. Thirdly, through the reception of the sacraments. The sacraments are a strong deterrent against evil influences. For instance, the sacrament of Penance reconciles us to God, and gives us a stronger resolve not to sin again. Then the Holy Eucharist nourishes our spirit, and fortifies us to be more vigilant. Last, but not the least, God wants us to be active in our renewal community. He wants us to take care of all those entrusted to us (to give them the food of God’s Word) so that we may be found worthy stewards of His household.

Let us be alert and watchful at all times, not only to withstand the trials and temptations of this world, but also to acquire the discipline and formation necessary to be worthy of God’s kingdom. We have the example of the great boxer, Manny Pacquiao, who always gave his best in discipline and training when he prepared for every encounter in the ring. The highest prize is reserved only for champions. What soul then, knowing he only gave a token of his time and talent to serve God’s kingdom here on earth, and was never really vigilant in his Christian responsibilities could boldly claim the greatest prize in eternity?

Teach us, o Lord, to make each day count that we may gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12) Make us always aware of our weaknesses, and be guided by Your Holy Spirit, so that we may grow and be worthy of Your love. Shield us from the enticements of this world, that we may always remain alert for Christ Jesus until the Last Day. Amen.

The Subtlety of Hypocrisy

Matthew 23:27-32
1Thes 2:9-13 / Psa 139:7-12

Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
(Matthew 23:27)

Don’t be deceived by what may seem
So innocent, no trace of guilt...
Remember those who lie and scheme
Are whitewashed tombs hiding their filth.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors began! (Mt. 23:27-32)

Reflection

Our Lord showed us how much He loves the meek and gentle of heart, those who humble themselves, those who make themselves least by serving others. On the other hand, in today’s Gospel reading, we read how much He detested the teachers of the law and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and self-righteous pride. Our Lord’s condemnation of hypocrisy is understandable, considering that this character flaw is the greatest obstacle to one’s repentance, without which one can never undergo genuine conversion.

Hypocrisy is such a subtle sin that a lot of people are not aware of being hypocritical in their attitude towards others, especially towards the sinners. Being judgmental about another person in any way is a form of hypocrisy, because “the measure with which we measure will be measured out to us.” (Mt.7:1) Erroneous upbringing can also lead us to bias and prejudice, another form of hypocrisy. Without any malice, we just don’t feel like associating with certain types of people, because we feel uncomfortable in their company; they bore us to death, they lack some social graces, etc. In fact, those who say that they don’t like to behave like good Christians because they don’t want to be called hypocrites are in fact being hypocritical.

Jesus warned His disciples to “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk.12:1) Yeast expands the bread, but makes it empty inside; so does hypocrisy make people bloat with pride, and makes their faith empty. Our Lord warns us to take care that we are not influenced by the hypocrisy of others, because as said earlier, pride and prejudice are very subtle sins that the scheming Satan can cause to pervade in our community of believers. St. Peter and Barnabas themselves were accused of hypocrisy for avoiding meals with Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were present (Gal.2:11-13). We must therefore always be on guard against the duplicity of our motives, such as pride, selfishness, envy, and hatred. These are the offsprings of hypocrisy, and against all these, the best antidote is a humble spirit. Cultivate humility, the sweetest fragrance that is most pleasing to our God.

Keep me from being self-righteous, Lord God; remind me that all the good that I do are through no efforts of mine, because they all come from You. Amen.

Clean Inside and Out

Matthew 23: 23-26
1 Thes 2:1-8/Ps 139:1-6

You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier things of the law: justice, mercy and faith.
(Matthew 23:23)

What lies within is what is real,
And no amount of scheme or stealth
Can hide that time will not reveal,
Lord, give our souls clean bills of health.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier things of the law: justice, mercy and faith. These things you ought to have done without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, then the outside will also be clean.” (Matthew 23:23-26)

Reflection

Many Christians find it hard to show their true nature by their natural appearance, and resort to hiding behind facades of virtues that often do not match the person within. That’s because it is easier to manage our externals than it is in dealing with our perceived flaws that we would rather prefer hidden. But as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the first reading, “(Since) we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, as faithful ministers, anxious to please God who sees the heart, rather than human beings” (1Thes.2:4)

It is hard to believe that even Mother Teresa, as featured in Time magazine, kept a deep secret of spiritual dryness and psychological pain during most of her lifetime when her accomplishments appeared to be clear manifestations of her closeness to God. For almost 50 years, according to her letters to various confessors, she was “living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which (God) had disappeared.” In a new book entitled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, her letters revealed that for the last almost half-century of her life, God was “neither in her heart nor in the Eucharist.” At one time, the “dryness,” “darkness,” and “torture” she was undergoing almost drove her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. Being acutely aware of this discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor, she wrote that her smile was just “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything,” and as she told an adviser, “If you were (there), you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.’” (Time Magazine, August 24, 2007)

And yet, what made Mother Teresa truly a great saint was that despite her spiritual torments, she never neglected the weightier things of the law, judging herself severely, lest she fell into self-righteousness, continuously practicing works of mercy for the poor and the dying, and being faithful to God and her vocation even in her “darkest night of the soul.” She remained clean inside and outside the cup and dish.

Mother Teresa had shown us that human as we are, there will always be doubts, just as there will always be flaws in our character. But as long as we judge our own behavior (not other people), show mercy to others, and be faithful to Christ come what may, then our outer physical appearance will be as clean as our soul within.

Lord, You have probed me, You know me: You know when I sit and when I stand; You understand my thoughts from afar (Psa.139:1-2), far better than I know myself. Deal with me then as You will, so that my cup and dish will always be clean. Amen.

Feast of St. Bartholomew

John 1: 45-51
Rev 21:9b-14 / Ps 145:10-13,17-18

Can anything good come from Nazareth?
(John 1:46)

Live a life of humility,
Cast off all kinds of prejudice;
When we hear God’s call, “Follow me”
‘We shall see greater things than this.’

Philip found Nathanael (Bartholomew) and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip answered, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than this.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:45-51)

Reflection

Prejudice is one of the most common flaws of human nature. Our orientation or social upbringing often influences us to categorize certain individuals according to their tribe, color of skin, educational background or place of origin. The apostle Nathanael was an upright and intelligent man, and yet, on impulse, his immediate response to Philip when informed about Jesus was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” True to His humble nature, Jesus did not rebuke his biased attitude; instead, He even praised him, calling him a “true Israelite, no duplicity in him.”

However, I cannot help but suspect that there might be a touch of sarcasm in those words – “true Israelite” and “no duplicity in him.” The original “Israel” was Jacob, but in his duplicity (with his mother’s help), he robbed his brother Esau of his birthright.

Nathanael was clearly touched by the power of Jesus’ words, because he could only ask Jesus lamely, “How do you know me?” When Jesus answered him, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” he was all the more astounded because he probably was under a fig tree at the time, and Jesus was nowhere in sight. And so he professed his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. To this, our Lord replied, “You will see greater things than this. . . the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” And again, this image referred to Jacob, in an allusion to the ladder of heaven in Genesis 28:12.

When a friend invited us to join the Brotherhood of Jesus, we hesitated at first, and probably said, like Nathanael, “What good would come out of it?” And he probably replied, “Just come and see. If you don’t like it, you can always walk away.” And we have stayed on for the last 17 years or so. Have we come to regret staying on? Of course not. In fact, I think we have we seen greater things that have made us stay.

Thank You, Father God, for the exemplary life of Your saints, including St. Bartholomew whose feast day we commemorate today. May his martyrdom inspire us to be brave and bold in helping build Your kingdom here on earth, and never to be discouraged by any trials or adversities. Amen.

Christ’s Brand of Leadership

Matthew 23: 1-12
Ru 2:1-3,8-11;4:13-17 / Ps 128:1-5

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12)

When our world seems to be crumbling,
Or all our prayers are denied,
Remember, a little humbling
Will keep us from the sin of pride.

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23: 1-12)

Reflection

Today’s Gospel passage of Matthew concerns the matter of stewardship. Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees who used their authority to burden the Jews with preposterous laws which they themselves cleverly avoided. And yet Jesus urged the people to “obey them and do everything they tell you” – if only to practice the virtues of obedience and humility – but not to imitate them, “for they do not practice what they preach.” Jesus set the standard for all His disciples to follow. He walked His talk, and practiced what He preached. As He was faithful and obedient to the Father’s plan, so must His disciples follow His example of servant leadership, the antithesis of all that the scribes and Pharisees stood for. They were to be humble as the Pharisees were proud; to be obedient to God’s Word, unlike the scribes who circumvented the Mosaic laws according to their interests; and seek to be servants, rather than strive for places of honor or high positions that the scribes and Pharisees desired. The more important our tasks and goals, the more we should assume the role of a servant or slave. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Let each of you humbly consider the others as more important than yourselves” (Phil.2:3).

Matthew’s Gospel speaks eloquently about many things that we, leaders in the renewal, may find useful in the course of our service to God and community. The first is: do we lead by example? As head of a ministry, do we put in more effort, time and resources into our service without counting the cost? Or are we forever harping on the load that we are carrying? The second question we must ask ourselves is: Who are we trying to please? Have we joined this Community because we seek recognition for our efforts or accolades from our peers? Do we feel offended when our contributions have not been acknowledged? Do we feel slighted when some brother or sister is chosen for some service in which we feel we are more qualified? Finally, let’s ask ourselves: Do I want to be a leader because I want to lead, or is it because in imitation of Christ, I want to be the servant of all?

Teach me, Lord, to be meek and humble, let Your blood on the cross wash away all my pride, self-importance, and the need for recognition. If I should be unfairly insulted in any way, let me respond with forgiveness and love. If I should be asked to perform a task I consider below my station, let me rejoice in the opportunity of growing in Your grace of humility. Be my Model always, Lord, that I may be worthy of Your commission. Amen.