Sunday Bible Reflections
The new Church year begins with a plea for God’s visitation. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,” the prophet Isaiah cries in today’s First Reading.
In today’s Psalm, too, we hear the anguished voice of Israel, imploring God to look down from His heavenly throne—to save and shepherd His people.
Today’s readings are relatively brief. Their language and “message” are deceptively simple. But we should take note of the serious mood and penitential aspect of the Liturgy today—as the people of Israel recognize their sinfulness, their failures to keep God’s covenant, their inability to save themselves.
The Church year ends today with a vision of the end of time. The scene in the Gospel is stark and resounds with Old Testament echoes.
The Son of Man is enthroned over all nations and peoples of every language (see Daniel 7:13–14). The nations have been gathered to see His glory and receive His judgment (see Isaiah 66:18; Zephaniah 3:8). The King is the divine shepherd Ezekiel foresees in today’s First Reading, judging as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
Each of us will be judged upon our performance of the simple works of mercy we hear in the Gospel today.
The day of the Lord is coming, Paul warns in today’s Epistle. What matters isn’t the time or the season, but what the Lord finds us doing with the new life, the graces He has given to us.
This is at the heart of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel. Jesus is the Master. Having died, risen, and ascended into heaven, He appears to have gone away for a long time.
By our Baptism, He has entrusted to each of us a portion of His “possessions,” a share in His divine life (see 2 Peter 1:4). He has given us talents and responsibilities, according to the measure of our faith (see Romans 12:3, 8).
According to marriage customs of Jesus’ day, a bride was first “betrothed” to her husband but continued for a time to live with her family. Then, at the appointed hour, some months later, the groom would come to claim her, leading her family and bridal party to the wedding feast that would celebrate and inaugurate their new life together.
This is the background to the parable of the last judgment we hear in today’s Gospel.
In the parable’s symbolism, Jesus is the Bridegroom (see Mark 2:19). In this, He fulfills God’s ancient promise to join himself forever to His chosen people as a husband cleaves to his bride (see Hosea 2:16–20). The virgins of the bridal party represent us, the members of the Church.
Though they were Moses’ successors, the Pharisees and scribes exalted themselves, making their mastery of the law a badge of social privilege. Worse, they had lorded the law over the people (see Matthew 20:25). Like the priests Malachi condemns in today’s First Reading, they caused many to falter and be closed off from God.
In a word, Israel’s leaders failed to be good spiritual fathers of God’s people. Moses was a humble father figure, preaching the law but also practicing it—interceding and begging God’s mercy and forgiveness of the people’s sins (see Exodus 32:9–14; Psalm 90).
The first reading focuses us for today’s solemnity. In the Book of Revelation, St. John reports “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
This is Good News. Salvation has come not only for Israel, but for the Gentiles as well. Here is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, that by his seed all the nations of the world would bless themselves (see Genesis 22:18).
Jesus came not to abolish the Old Testament law but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17). And in today’s Gospel, He reveals that love—of God and of neighbor—is the fulfillment of the whole of the law (see Romans 13:8–10).
Devout Israelites were to keep all 613 commands found in the Bible’s first five books. Jesus says today that all these, and all the teachings of the prophets, can be summarized by two verses of this law (see Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).