After a little thought and some reflection about our lives, I believe that we can all share some good examples about perseverance. Our examples might come from books we have read, movies we have seen, or people with whom we have lived and/or worked. But the best and perhaps most important examples of perseverance come from our own life stories.
Maybe you persevered when trying to pass a class in mathematics. Maybe you persevered when more and different demands were made by an employer. Maybe you persevered through the pain of hip or knee surgery. Maybe you are persevering with uncertainty and shock as devastating national and world events are taking place now.
It’s interesting that the word “persevere” is rarely found in the scriptures. In most translations, the word does not appear yet there are many stories about people who persevere. The story of Noah, Esther, Suzanna, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Good Samaritan, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the women with a hemorrhage, the cripple at the well of Bethsaida speak about perseverance in different ways. To persevere suggests more than mere toleration or the enduring of a particular circumstance or person. To persevere means to be earnest or strong toward; to be constantly diligent; to adhere closely to; to be steadfast with a person or thing. To persevere contains a strong sense of continuous drive toward completing some activity or achieving some goal.
The parable about the ten virgins that we hear on the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time is another story about perseverance. The gospel writer is using the parable to explain to Matthew’s early Christian community the delay between the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his return at the end of time. The writer is dealing with the disappointment and discouragement of the early Christians that Jesus had not come back for them yet. They needed to be prepared for a delay. They needed a story about perseverance.
In the gospel story, the ten women who are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ the bridegroom are waiting earnestly. They are called “virgins” because at this time in Matthew’s community unmarried people were to be concerned about the things of God rather than the needs of a spouse. They were to be earnest in living out a Christian life while waiting for Jesus to return.
All ten women bring oil to light their lamps. The oil and the light it produces symbolize the good deeds that the women have done. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his followers “Let your light shine before all so that they may see and benefit from your good works” (Mt 5:16).
Unfortunately, one person’s good deeds cannot be shared with others. They belong to the one who does the good deeds. The wise women cannot share their good deeds with their foolish sisters. The five foolish women have not been sensible. They have not persevered in accepting the different and everyday opportunities to recognize and respond to God as they wait for the final arrival of Jesus. Consequently, when it comes time to meet Jesus, they are not prepared, they are away, their lamps are not burning, and the door is closed.
If you and I were to tell stories from our own lives about perseverance, would we focus on the pain and agony that we suffered or would we focus on our hope in God, our hope in one another, and our hope in ourselves? Hope is the fire for perseverance. With hope, our lights burn brightly.
Fr. Bob Kelly