The Foolish and the Wise

Homily: Wis 6:12-15; Ps 63; Mt. 25: 1-13

Our Gospel today tells the story of ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. They went to meet their, Lord. Five were prepared; they had brought their oil; their lamps were burning. They were wise. Five were unprepared; they went out without oil to meet their Lord; their lamps were dead. They were foolish.

It leads us to ask ourselves whether we are wise, or whether we are foolish. Or whether we even know the difference.

None of us like to be called fools. There are many layers of foolishness in life. One is a fool who is so inept he is always laughed at. He wears his shirt inside out or wears a slipper with a shoe. He is the one who cannot tie his shoes, or cannot distinguish between salt and sugar for his coffee. He is the jester, the buffoon, the clown. But another is the fool because he is easily duped – because he is easily “fooled.” He is the one who will sell a precious diamond for a handful of glitter, or would sell his brand new Porsche for ticket to Fantasyland in a magic time machine. He’s the one who on the urging of a friend would jump into a lake – forgetting he does not know how to swim.

There are different layers of foolishness in life. Naturally, you laugh at the fool. Foolish things are so obviously funny, out of synch, irrational, that you laugh, and laugh heartily. Like when the a student thinks he can pass Fr. Toledo’s course in computer science without studying, or the teacher who thinks he can get rich by teaching religion. You are a fool if you think you can sing without making any sound, or if you think you can find quiet in the midst of a blaring brass band.

Some layers of foolishness are rather serious, if not tragic, and are anything but laughable. It is foolish if after having drunk a half bottle of scotch you get into your car to drive. It is foolish if having been diagnosed with high blood pressure you fail to take the medicine prescribed. It is foolish if having all the advantages of wealth, education and privilege, all is squandered in gambling and sexual promiscuity. Foolishness can result in endless layers of pain and death.

What was the foolishness of the five virgins that failed to bring oil for their lamps when they met their lord? Their foolishness was that because of their carelessness they squandered the point of all their waiting. They waited and waited and waited to meet their master with burning lamps. When he finally came, and they ran out to meet him, their lamps weren’t burning. Their lamps were dead. All their waiting, all their lives, were for naught.

What is it in life for which we wait, for which we prepare, for which we long? What is it in love for which we work and toil and struggle and sacrifice ourselves? Our calling is to meet the Lord. Our calling is to be prepared when he comes.

We are foolish if in life we wait only for a wad of cash. Or for castles in the sand.

The Gospel is saying we are foolish when in life we do not prepare to meet the Lord. We are foolish when in life we fall asleep, exhausted by all the grand projects we have, mesmerized by our petty concerns, and forget the Lord. We are foolish when we trade the Pearl of Great Price for an evening of pleasurable sensations, when we give up the Treasure found in the field for “fifteen minutes of fame.”

The wise virgins had oil in their lamps. They were prepared. They met their Lord with their lamps burning bright.

Perhaps, today, in this chapel of a Catholic University, we might pray, not just for knowledge, not just for savvy with today’s fascinating technology, not just for competence and skills. Perhaps today we might all pray for insight into… what it’s all about; we must pray for wisdom. Wisdom is not bought. It is not taught. It is not something that is packaged and put into an academic course. It is not something to be taken for granted. In our world, there are some wise. But many, many more fools.

Among the greatest fools are the “wise guys.” The wise guys are the manipulators of the rules, manipulators of the law, and manipulators of people. There are the people who think they can get by and succeed on their cunning, cynicism and “wisdom.” They break the rules, break the law, disrespect people, harm their friends and relatives, destroy their environment, because they are the masters of the sleight of hand, the fast ones, the crooked deals. They love to laugh in their successes, especially when the laughter is at another’s expense. They laugh at the expense of the fool. But part of today’s Gospel, I think, is that the last laugh is not the wise guy’s. The last laugh is the Law’s. Or the last laugh is Justice’s. The last laugh is the Lord’s who comes, and whom they must meet in their own darkness. It belongs to him who says, “Away from me…! I do not know you, wise guy!”

We do not pray to be wise guys. We pray for wisdom. We wait… for Wisdom. We wait for God. In this context, our first reading from the book of Wisdom is profound:

“Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” Here wisdom is personified. The Third Person of the Trinity is Wisdom.

We must consciously seek wisdom. Ultimately, wisdom is not just a special virtue. Wisdom is God, and we are wise only if we seek God as Wisdom. We must yearn for him, desire him, love him.

The Responsorial Psalm describes the wise person when he says, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Wise is the person who prays:

“O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water….

“I remember you upon my couch,
and through the night watches I meditate on you:
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.”

Wisdom in our world does not have all the answers. Wisdom will not solve the European Crisis, nor heal the wounds of our abused environment. But wisdom is the quiet in the afternoon breeze. It is the golden hue of the sunrise, and the peace of the sunset. Wisdom is what it’s all about

There were ten virgins: five were foolish, five were wise. Five were laughed at endlessly. Five attained eternal praise. In your search for success, hopefully you do not sell your birthright for a pot of porridge, nor sell your soul for a pound of flesh – and suddenly awaken numbered among fools. In your search for the essential, in your demand for truth, in your criticism of the superficial, in your drive for depth, in your silence, in your prayer…, in your embrace of the Lord as you embrace of those whom He loves, hopefully you are awake – numbered among the wise.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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2 Responses to The Foolish and the Wise

  1. Annette says:

    Thank you for sharing and living wisdom!

  2. Thank you Father Joel for the wisdom!

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