Thirty Second Sunday of the Year
Today’s Gospel reminds us that God’s surprising or unpredictable presence can come upon us. This is the way that God chooses to call, send, or encounter people. In fact, God is always present but the surprise is on us. Life presents us with lots of unknowns and we need to be ready for them. Maya Angelou says: ‘Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.’ We are call to be concerned in every moment to build God’s reign by sharing the oil of justice, mercy, and all the blessings so critically needed in our world today. The gospel focuses on doing things differently. The ‘oil’ in the gospel is not the commodity people fight over but about thinking and acting differently. It may involve looking ‘foolish’ according to the world whether business, politics, or religion because it is God who is working whether we recognise it or not.
Women are central in today’s first reading and Gospel. This is rare when they are marginalised, anonymous, silent or absent from biblical texts. Some elements in the gospel suggest a voice that is not Jesus. This seems to be the only time in the gospels where women are presented negatively endemic to that deeply patriarchal culture, as well as our own. Even here we detect male dominance in the parables. When we talk about thinking and acting differently, it means recognising the underrepresentation of women and relative ‘invisibility’ in the Scriptures. All the women are unnamed. Five are presented as ‘foolish’ and the other five as ‘wise.’ The writer prejudicially calls five ‘foolish’ failing to recognise them as people, irrespective of their roles, statuses, or occupations which is an important marker for a just and equal society where these invisible ones are bearers, instruments, agents, and resources of the Gospel.
Our task is to make our community, our society, our nation, and our world where fairness and justice flourish. We have the responsibility to participate with God in creation by rectifying the imbalances we see around us by being in solidarity and present to those nearest to us as well as those who are ‘the least of these...’: those who lack the most, those on the lowest rung, those considered at the bottom of the social heap, those for whom there seems to be no justice at all. These are asylum seekers, the aged, people living with mental illness, many youth and children, as well as Palestinians and First Nations people. It is up to us to ensure that all God's children have a fair share of God's gifts with which we have been blessed. It is a ministry of giving, not taking, of sharing and caring.
We are called to seize the moment. We cannot wait for others to act. We cannot wait for church leaders to find their tongues and speak out. We cannot wait for those in government to act. Waiting for them would be to squander possibilities and miss opportunities. The focus today is not aimed at the outsiders but towards the so-called ‘insiders’ who call Jesus, ‘Lord’ and consider themselves ‘disciples.’ These ‘insiders’ are those who are figuratively ‘asleep’, those silent, not watchful, who ignore Jesus’ promptings today to produce in their lives the fruits of justice, peace and love. Justice begins with the recognition that all people are interconnected – all are our sisters and brothers. The gospel narrative is about encounter, not punishment. If anyone is being victimised and oppressed, we need to do our utmost to speak out against it. If others do not respect their rights, we cannot stand by as if it is none of our business. Our business is to be where there is pain and suffering and oppose injustice with all our strength. We cannot enjoy peace of mind and make peace with God if we do nothing. Some years ago, at a trial in Ireland when peace activists damaged some US aircraft that were part of the invasion of Iraq, the defense counsel said they attempted to prevent a more serious crime: ‘These people are on trial for what they have done, but we are all on trial for what we have not done’ – to stop evil and injustice
The gospel does not intend to induce fear in us. It is not about insiders and outsiders or fencing people out. It is encouraging us to respond to the invitations of Jesus every day. Shutting the door on people because they were not prepared does not fit the image of Jesus in the gospels. It was more usual for him to go out of his way to include those who were not prepared and seen as ‘foolish’ by showing them that they were loved: the sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Too often is assumed that the character in the parables who excludes, punishes, and is violent is God. Jesus came to change that understanding.
Despair cannot solve problems, promote justice, or bring life. The temptation to despair is ever-present given the overwhelming challenges facing our world. It was evident in the failure of the recent Referendum. It is every present as we watch the carnage in Ukraine, Gaza, South Sudan, Syria and so many other places. Hope comes through our commitment to Jesus’ way and discovering the ‘oil’, the comrades and other resources that strengthen us to continue. These resources include an ability to recognise God’s presence and activity and co-operate with what God is doing. When we remember that God’s reign arrives in the subtle, unexpected ways Jesus spoke of, we discover we have what we need to make the small, consistent commitments and contributions to effect change for the better in the world. The closed door is never the final act. There is always a renewed invitation to open the door. God does not close the door to us. The good news is that that just as God’s power burst through the stone door of the tomb, it can open the door of our hearts every day and transform all our loving and just actions for the good of others. Christians have often fallen asleep and forgotten to eagerly expect the transformation of the world. The church often fails to express the radical inclusiveness of Jesus. Many leaders fail to articulate an alternative narrative to violence, greed, racism and discrimination. But, there are people ‘foolish’ enough to proclaim the value of our coloured sisters and brothers; to challenge ‘white privilege’; to proclaim that violence does work; to continue to denounce the illegal detention of people who seek asylum and massive inconsistencies in the incarceration of First Nations youth, to demand equality for all people and inclusion of women, children, or different sexual orientation in our circles of relationship. An alternative story to prevailing narratives seeks to create spaces that welcome the stranger, the outsider, and the marginalised.
The so-called ‘wise’ are ineffective and silent. So, there is virtue in being ‘foolish’. Paul speaks of the wisdom of God being foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). Those labelled ‘foolish’ in today’s parable were foolish in according to the world’s wisdom that divides people into the worthy and the unworthy; those who are in and those who are out. The world’s wisdom depends on a culture of violence where violence seems to be the only way to solve conflict whilst those who proclaim active nonviolence are considered foolish. Those deemed ‘foolish’ refuse to see that hate as the remedy for hate or violence. They do not exclude or shut the door on people. These foolish ones see love as the remedy for hate and violence. Jesus raided the Temple because temple practices were without justice, and where organised religion was without substance. He was overcome by the lack of anger in people at routine injustice. Did no one see or notice the injustice? Was no one scandalised or saddened by it? Had everyone become so dull? Why no passion in these people? So, Jesus' anger rolls down when worship and religion leave us and our world unchanged and less kind and compassionate; where the Good News is domesticated; where Jesus’ subversive teaching is watered down. We do not need more ‘wise’ bridesmaids who keep their oil of mercy, compassion, nonviolence, to themselves. The gospel view is that is there. It is available to all. There is enough food. There is enough oil. There is enough love for everyone. It is up to us to trust that there is enough, if we just share. If we are to stay awake or remain vigilant, or keep our lamps lit, it happens by loving and serving others and being open to receive others.