Seeking wisdom Wis 6:12-16; Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13 How to define true wisdom? That is a question raised in this Sunday’s readings. I suspect most of us recognize a wise person when we meet them. They are someone who is thoughtful, mature, not rash or impulsive; someone who thinks things through and draws on good experience when making a decision; someone we turn to for good advice. The Bible prizes this kind of wisdom too. Books of the Bible such as Proverbs collect wise sayings drawn from solid and tested human experience. Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of another type of wisdom, not unrelated to proverbial human wisdom but pushing beyond it. Here wisdom is personified, usually as a woman. In Greek the word for “wisdom” is “sophia,” used in the ancient Greek translations of the Book of Wisdom. Wisdom in this mode seems to be a personification of God’s own presence. Wisdom stands by God and offers something like the architectural plans for the creation of the world (Prv 8:22-31). Wisdom comes and sets up her tent among humans (Sir 24:8-12). Wisdom is like rich food and wine for the human spirit (Prv 9:2-5). And, as in our reading today, and to those who love her and long for her, wisdom will “appear to them … and meet them with all solicitude.” These two notions of wisdom merge in the biblical world. God’s loving and wise presence saturates the world and is available to those who seek God with an open heart. The person of faith who lets the Word of God suffuse their being can become wise in a human sense, dealing with others thoughtfully and graciously. These sentiments are reflected in the refrain of today’s responsorial Psalm 69: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” It is also picked up in the verses of the Psalm: “O God, you are my God whom I see; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water … For your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you.” Jesus, steeped as he was in the Jewish Scriptures, was aware of the need for wisdom — both as God’s presence to be longed for and as prudent and thoughtful human conduct. That is clear in Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins found in the selection from Matthew’s Gospel for this Sunday. In the pattern of ancient Jewish wedding customs, the wedding party, including young women as bridesmaids, waits for the moment when the new husband brings his betrothed to his home to consummate the marriage. As in so many of Jesus’ parables there is a surprise or strange element. Here the bridegroom comes at midnight and the long delay has put the wedding party to sleep. When the arrival is announced, some of the virgins have neglected to bring oil for the torches they will use to mark the grand entrance. The wise virgins, on the other hand, are ready to celebrate and join this late-night wedding feast. The foolish ones are left out in the cold. The lesson that Jesus draws from this parable, as he does in several others like it, is to “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Being ready and awake is a mark of wisdom. Especially being alert to God’s presence in our world is the heart of biblical wisdom. Some commentators also suggest that the oil for the torches is symbolic of doing good deeds, which is another strong emphasis of Matthew’s Gospel, as we will hear in next Sunday’s readings as well. By every account, these are difficult times for all of us. We are isolated from some of our loved ones; concerned about our jobs and the expenses piling up; and, of course, fearful of contagion for ourselves and our families. It is easy to lose our balance, to give way to sadness or spiritual numbness. In these circumstances, our Sunday readings call us to wisdom, to being alert, deepening our trust in God’s presence, and being ready to lift the spirits of others through our loving and thoughtful care for them.