Treasure Buried Beyond Sunday’s Excerpts

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This Sunday’s readings seem tailored to appeal to the selfish among and within us. We’d be wise not to read them that way. They seemingly dangle wisdom before our eyes as a jewel of great value, and like the slickest of salesmen, flatter our prudent self-regard, making us want to grab it before someone else does. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom reassures us:

Taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude. (Wis 6:12-16)

This is not unlike Sunday’s New Testament selection (Mt 25:1-13) in which Jesus also seems to appeal to our selfish ability to recognize the importance of being ready for our own salvation. His parable of the coming of the bridegroom pits foolish against wise and challenges us to take sides in determining who deserves salvation:

At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’

We got ours, the wise ones seem to say.

But both these excerpts lack the one jewel of greatest value to God: compassion. Why couldn’t those wise virgins have warned the foolish well in advance to bring extra oil, as they did, so everyone could be ready? This is what compassionate leadership is all about, and is the gem that can be found elsewhere in the scriptures from which these readings are taken. We should always be ready to go beyond the excerpts to get the rest of the story. Take, for example, how that passage from the Book of Wisdom ends:

A multitude of the wise is the safety of the world, and a prudent king, the stability of the people; so take instruction from my words, to your profit. (Wis 6:24-25)

Safety for EVERYONE requires SOMEONE’s wisdom and compassion to make it happen. In Sunday’s excerpt from the fourth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 4:13-18), he promises salvation for both the living and the dead who’ve believed what Jesus taught. But look at the part of his letter we WON’T read this Sunday:

On the subject of mutual charity, you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Nevertheless we urge you, brothers, to progress even more. (1 Thes 4:9-10)

“Even more” is found between and beyond the lines of our Sunday excerpts, and invites daily scriptural scrutiny to find the gems of greatest value to us. Later in that same gospel section we read this Sunday, in which the wise virgins saved themselves by their prudent planning, Jesus describes the criteria God will use to judge the fruit of such wisdom:

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?’ … And the king will reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt 25:34-40)

We’d be wise to care about the welfare of the least among us. Those who strive to bring others along on their journey to God will discover upon arrival that God’s been with them the whole time.

–Tom Andel


  1. As we advance toward Advent, the church reminds us of our need to be ready, to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

    It is so easy in this life and the culture around us to get complacent, because we are too comfortable. We are soft due to our excess. Many don’t give God or their future/final destination the slightest consideration.

    This is really tragic. God has given us the rules and instructions to live our lives worthy of the love He has for us, but we are often lazy and indifferent. Half the virgins in this parable were prepared. The others were not. Seems so obvious what the Lord is telling us.

    Are you prepared?

    • Our end-of-year Advent preparations tend to be as ceremonial as our beginning-of-year New Year’s resolutions. Unless we revisit and act on them daily, the answer to your question is too easy.

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