Homily for November 8, 2020

  Preparing for Jesus’ Return

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 8, 2020

In Jesus’ day it was a wedding custom for the bridegroom to go to the bride’s house in the evening. When it was announced that the bridegroom was coming, it was the job of the bridesmaids to go out with torches lit to welcome the groom into the house, where the celebration would then begin. Jesus uses the story to illustrate the need for preparedness while we wait for his return.

Obviously, our wedding customs today are different, and we normally don’t use torches that require oil. So, how do we maintain our readiness in an ongoing way? I’d like to reflect on that, focusing not on torches, but on the light itself. After all, Jesus taught that we are “the light of the world.”

Let me begin with a favorite story…. A man built a very prosperous business, and when he was getting on in years, he realized that he had no children to inherit what he had created. So he called in three nephews, deciding to test their creativity and problem-solving skills. He gave each of them an equal amount of money, instructing them to buy something that would fill his rather large office, and he directed that they had to be back by sunset.

All day long each nephew worked separately to fulfill his uncle’s wishes. Finally, when the shadows lengthened, they returned to give their report. The first nephew dragged in huge sacks of Styrofoam packing “peanuts” that nearly filled the office when the sacks were empty. After that was cleaned up, the second nephew arrived with bundles and bundles of helium-filled balloons that floated throughout the office, filling it better than the Styrofoam peanuts.

The third nephew stood silent and forlorn. His uncle inquired of him, “So what have you to offer?” “Uncle,” the nephew replied, “I spent half of my money to help a family whose house burned down last night. Then I ran into some kids in trouble and gave most of the rest to an inner-city youth center. With the little bit I had left, I bought this candle and some matches.” Then he lit the candle and its glowing light filled every corner of the room! The kindly old uncle then realized that here was the noblest of his family. He blessed the nephew for making the best use of his gift and welcomed him into his business.

The beauty of the story is that while it technically fulfills the uncle’s challenge, the candle’s light is, in a deeper sense, symbolic of the true light that the young man brought into the world. It was his kindheartedness and compassion that made him sensitive to the needs of the family with the fire and the youth who were getting into trouble. And rather than thinking only of lighting up his own life and securing his future, he was more concerned about the more desperate needs of others. He had a conscience, an interior readiness to be there for others when they needed help. He truly was light for the world, even without fully appreciating the full significance of the fact that, by thinking of other peoples’ needs ahead of his own, he was securing his future.

So, I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should dash out and buy oil for our lamps—or anything else, for that matter. He taught he could be found among those who were down and out: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me”…and so on. By taking advantage in an ongoing way of the opportunities to make a difference, and to bring hope to others—that’s how we make sure we have enough oil to keep the light glowing.

I think this is particularly important during this increasingly difficult and anxiety-producing time of Covid-19, economic hardship, social division and personal upheaval. We don’t have the power to solve everything, but we have the ability to do something, to make a difference, one person at a time.

Consider what that might look like for you. Do you know anyone who is isolated or lonely? Someone facing serious illness or surgery? Someone facing a food shortage or coming up short with their rent or other bills? Someone who could benefit from a cheerful voice? All we have to do is what the third nephew did in the story: put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. Spread the light, and we’ll always be ready for the Master’s return.