Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Head of a Prophet Mikhail Vrubel (1905)
Depending on what choice is made from the unusually wide range of alternative passages set for this week, it is easy to identify some key themes  -- wisdom, final judgment, and the life hereafter. But how are they connected? The different writers seem to say quite different things about them. The prophet Amos is full of foreboding and paints a gloomy picture -- 'Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light'. The author of the Wisdom of Solomon, on the other hand,  says that everyone who gives heed to wisdom's laws has an 'assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God'. Saint Paul, however, tells the Thessalonian Christians, that it is not wisdom but the faith that 'Jesus died and rose again', which  gives them reason not to  'grieve as others do who have no hope', and brings assurance that 'the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first'. 

Wise and Foolish Virgins William Blake (1822)
So is the prospect of the Last Day a cause for fear or for hope? And from the point of view of this prospect, does it matter or not whether we have lived wisely? The Gospel reading consists in a single parable which throws light on this. Traditionally known as 'the wise and foolish virgins' it recounts the eagerly anticipated climax of a great wedding, the moment when the Bridegroom arrives. Everyone is equally eager for the Bridegroom's arrival. Experience tells us that this crowning moment could be delayed for some reason or other, and it is simple wisdom, not special genius or expertise, that should lead us to prepare for such an eventuality. Yet when the moment comes, it finds some 'foolish' people who lack this modicum of wisdom quite unprepared. And yet their vain attempt to put things right at the last moment reveals the ease with which they realize the importance of the thing they have lost through lack of foresight. Wisdom is not the cause of the bridegroom's arrival, nor lack of it that causes his delay. Wisdom has to do with the guests' preparedness.

The Wise Virgins Paul Delvaux (1965)
The 'faith' of the Thessalonians was that the death and Resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of the meaning and purpose of the whole creation. That is where their hope did, and should, lie. Nevertheless, they still needed wisdom to properly prepare for the implications of this truth, and could, therefore, foolishly fail to do so. With wisdom we can hope, contra Amos, that the 'Day of the Lord' is a day of light. Without it however, along with the 'foolish virgins', we may discover that it is possible to be excluded from this light and left in darkness.

No comments:

Post a Comment