In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus cautions his listeners to stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. He warns them not to be like the foolish bridesmaids who were unprepared. They assumed they could always get more oil for their torches whenever they needed it, and the door of the house would be opened for them even if they arrived late. The foolish bridesmaids were shocked to discover that, at the decisive hour, because they were unprepared, they were excluded. Until then, there seemed to be no difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids. They all became drowsy and fell asleep, Jesus tells us. But the midnight call to action finds the wise prepared and welcomed, and the foolish unprepared and left out.
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep. These words from our second reading direct our attention to a subject we mostly try to avoid: death. The Church puts death front and center during the month of November. It begins with All Saints’ Day, which is immediately followed by All Souls’ Day, when we pray in a special way for our departed loved ones. Paul tells the Thessalonians that when the Lord Jesus returns in glory, those who have already died will rise first. Then we who are alive … will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
How then, can we best prepare to meet the Lord? Our first reading may have the key. Wisdom can be found by those who seek her. And the wisdom we seek – to be prepared to meet the Lord – is found in what Jesus teaches his disciples. His message is about how we are to live in the kingdom of God here on earth, so as to live with God after our death. His lessons are about forgiving others generously, being grateful for the generosity of others, following through on our word, and not expecting reward for doing the right thing. Most important, he teaches that loving God with all our mind, heart and soul, and humbly loving our neighbor as ourselves, are the greatest commandments.
The lessons Jesus taught his listeners as he prepared for his death provide us all the wisdom we need for being prepared for our own deaths. Let us stay awake in seeking to live in the wisdom he shares. Let us grow in wisdom by finding ways to grow in our love for God and in our love for our neighbors. In doing so, Scripture tells us we will not be disappointed. As we gain this wisdom, we will also grow in gratitude for God’s kindness, and in certainty of the hope we have for being joined with the Lord and those who have gone before us.