1Cor 1:17-25; Ps 33:1,2,4,5,10,11; Mt 25:1-13
“The design of his heart”
We respond to Psalm 33 with, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” This is not so apparent when we hear today’s gospel proclaimed. Where is the goodness of the Lord as Saint John the Baptist is being beheaded? Is this just a poor choice of biblical text or is it some sick sense of humor? How can anyone exult in the Just One? Whence comes the fitting praise of the upright? Why should we give thanks to the LORD upon the harp? Should we chant praises with the stringed lyre? If the word of the LORD is upright and all his works are trustworthy, then how do you explain the oath of the king and his fulfillment of this bloody oath? Why doesn’t the LORD bring to nought the plans of Herod? Why doesn’t God foil the designs of the powerful? Perhaps we can find some response to these nagging yet necessary questions in the next line of Psalm 33. It is written, “But the plan of the LORD stands forever; the design of his heart, through all generations”. The LORD does not will human destruction, much less the beheading of one of his prophets. However, the LORD’s plans do stand forever, and the designs of his heart last through all generations. The mystery of his plans we behold in the cross of Christ that stands at the very center of human history. The designs of his heart we glimpse in the cross of Christ that last through all generations. It is this cross that is prefigured in the gruesome martyrdom of Saint John the Forerunner. As Saint John stood up against the injustice of the king, the Lord Jesus hung upon the cross as the definitive act of redeeming love, a light that no darkness can quench. This is the eternal design of the Father’s heart, and his Eternal Son fulfills this divine desire to reveal the bright glory of love’s triumph in suffering. Indeed, this is a good reason to exult and be glad.
Saint Paul came among the Corinthians to preach the Gospel. This preaching has a power of its own, the power of the cross of Christ. The Apostle did not take advantage of the communication techniques of his day. He did not rely on eloquence to persuade the Corinthians. Argumentation, formal and informal, does not bestow faith. Faith comes from an encounter with the Crucified One. It is the power of his sacrificial love that transforms our foolishness into wisdom. The wisdom of the cross is the wisdom of love so passionate that it breaks itself open and pours itself out unto the end. As Saint Paul writes elsewhere, this is how we define love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us; yes, while we were still sinners, enemies of God and His Christ, he loved us. He laid down his life for us as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In his wisdom the LORD does not use what the world considers wisdom to convert us; the LORD uses the foolishness of the cross to attract our hearts and arrest our souls. Could there be any greater love? Could there be any greater beauty? Neither the Jews, who seek signs, nor the Greeks, who look for wisdom, are satisfied. It takes faith to see in the Crucified the definitive sign of divine love for all humanity and for all history. It takes faith to behold in the Crucified the ultimate wisdom of divine love to heal and forgive all who approach with honesty about their deepest longing for union with Love Divine. No category of human wisdom can fully contain or completely explain the foolish love of God for his rebellious and resistant children. No amount of human strength can achieve the triumph of the Crucified who conquers death by death. It appears to be merely weakness and complete defeat, this victory of the cross of Christ.
With the original disciples of the Lord Jesus, we too, need to hear the parable of the ten wise and ten foolish virgins. Although it is not possible to fully appreciate the wedding customs at the basis of this story, we can still glean a message from the human interaction related in the parable. Did you ever wonder why the wise virgins did not remind the foolish ones earlier that they needed extra oil for their lamps? Perhaps they did not know about the lack of preparation, or perhaps they were giving their fellow virgins the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who had to wait for the arrival of the wedding party could have anticipated a delay. However, the foolish virgins did not bring the necessary supply of oil. Perhaps that’s the point; perhaps that’s why they are called foolish. The church too would be foolish not to anticipate delay of the Lord’s return. Is the Lord not patient and waiting for us to grow in holiness? In the time of waiting we must have enough oil to light the way for the Lord’s return. What is this oil that keeps us burning bright in the night of our waiting? Is it not the Holy Spirit? Is it not the oil of gladness with which we were anointed in our Baptism and Confirmation? The Holy Spirit floods our souls with his gifts, and in using these gifts we live in loving service, enabling us to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is with love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, fortitude and self-control that we burn bright and wait confidently for the arrival of the One who is coming in all His glory.