As the end of the liturgical year approaches, the Readings deal with the end of our lives. Death is the one certainty in each of our futures. Death can occur at any time and in any place.
Today’s Gospel invites each of us to ask this question: What steps can I take to ensure that I will be ready to meet the Lord when the end of my life comes?
The parable about the 10 bridesmaids can help us to answer this question. At 1st glance, some of the details are rather shocking. The 5 wise bridesmaids appear harsh, selfish and uncharitable towards the 5 foolish bridesmaids who ask to share some of their oil. The bridegroom seems excessively cruel and unreasonable by shutting the door, claiming not to even know the 5 foolish bridesmaids, and eventually excluding them.
The intent of these extreme responses is to jolt us, to shock us out of our complacency. The decisions we make matter. They do influence the type of relationship we have with God. Our choices do affect the quality of our discipleship. The point of the parable is to convince us not to take our relationship with God for granted. The intent of the strange details is not to frighten us about God’s responses to us, but rather to motivate us to rethink our responses to God.
Notice how the parable begins: “the Kingdom of heaven will look like this”. The “Kingdom of heaven” is the same as the “Kingdom of God”. The main message of the parable is about the Kingdom of God and about the nature of Christian discipleship.
Jesus’s mission was to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth. What do we mean by the expression “Kingdom of God”? Jesus’ teachings and his way of life show clearly what this kingdom looks like: unconditional compassion, unconditional forgiveness and unconditional love.
With this definition in mind, let us examine the parable more closely. The responsibility of the 10 bridesmaids was to keep the bride company as she waited for the arrival of the bridegroom. The expectation was that the bridesmaids would go and meet the groom and bring him back to where the bride was waiting. Then, the bride and groom and the other members of the wedding party would walk from the waiting area into the hall where the wedding banquet would be held.
The problem was that the bridegroom was delayed and was unable to arrive until it was midnight. Since the bridegroom arrived once it was dark, it was the responsibility of the bridesmaids to light their lamps so that everyone could see where they were going.
5 bridesmaids were wise; they were well prepared and took flasks of oil with their lamps. Their lamps were ready to be lit and give off light. 5 bridesmaids were foolish; they were unprepared and disorganized and took no oil with them. Their plan was to borrow sufficient oil from the other 5 bridesmaids at some time later in the evening. That was not possible. Therefore, they had to scramble to go to buy oil. By the time they got back, it was too late. Everyone was already at the wedding banquet. Even though they had lots of oil, it was pointless to light their lamps now.
The bridegroom who arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the night is Jesus. The 10 bridesmaids with their lamps stand for the disciples of Jesus who are called to be people of the light in the world.
The flasks of oil represent the Gospel. The oil can’t be shared. The quality of my discipleship is ultimately my responsibility. No one can say “yes” to Jesus on my behalf.
Before discussing who the 5 wise bridesmaids represent, let’s clarify the meaning of the word, “wisdom”. The 1st Reading gives us an excellent summary of wisdom: “Wisdom graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought”. Wisdom is to see our world and our individual lives as God sees them. When our mindset, values, attitudes and habits are in tune with God’s plans for our lives, we are wise. What is God’s will for our lives? Jesus Christ is the human embodiment of what God wants us to do.
The 5 wise bridesmaids with oil in their lamps stand for the true disciples of Jesus. To be a genuine follower of Jesus means to place the oil of the Gospel at the center of our lives so that it can clearly mark out the path that we are to follow. In other words, it is to put God and his Kingdom first in our lives.
On the other hand, when we are so preoccupied with worldly attachments, when we are focused on wealth, power, social status and pleasure, when the most important tasks of our lives are making money, building a career, seeking material abundance, or having fun with our friends, we are like the 5 foolish bridesmaids with no oil in their lamps. The priority of our living is not commitment to the Gospel. God and his Kingdom are of minor importance.
As truly wise Christians, we are to build our lives on the core teaching of Jesus: love of God and love of neighbor as self. The call of our Baptism and Confirmation (where our foreheads are literally marked with oil) is to be agents of loving, compassion and forgiveness each and every day as we encounter various situations and various people. Whenever we are instruments of healing, whenever we give of ourselves in generous service to those in need, whenever we show kindness, gentleness and concern, our lamps are burning brightly, and we are able to dispel the darkness that surrounds us.
The wedding banquet represents the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in heaven for all eternity. However, our admittance to that Kingdom depends on how we used the oil of the Gospel to provide light for the Kingdom of God to flourish on this earth.
The concluding sentence of today’s Gospel is: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour”. In Matthew’s Gospel, the expression “to keep awake” is not intended to strike fear into our hearts. Rather, it is a call to immediate action. This parable is challenging us to be wise disciples who do not wait until some time in the future to make Jesus fully part of our lives. We are encouraged to lay aside all the distractions and keep our lamps lit right here, right now.
Let us return to the original question: What steps can I take to ensure that I will be ready to meet the Lord when the end of my life comes?
This parable urges us to carefully examine our spiritual condition. God wants us to take stock of those areas where weaknesses exist and make a firm resolution to improve them now.
I recall this incident from Mother Theresa’s life. She was celebrating a significant milestone in her life. A journalist asked her: “When did you decide to be a nun?” Her reply: “This morning”.
We are encouraged to give similar responses about the circumstances in our lives: “How long have I been married? Since this morning”. “When did I become a parent? This morning”. “How long have we been close friends? Since this morning”.
If we need to make more time for God, let’s act now. If we need to be more faithful to Jesus’ way of life, let’s decide and act on it this day and every day. It would be unwise to put this task off until the house is paid off or we retire or our children leave home. We may never get to see next week, next month, or next year. At that point, it will be too late to light the lamp.
As our Eucharist continues, let us offer this prayer to God: Gracious God, renew in us the gift of your wisdom which you first gave to us on the day of our Confirmation. Plant the values of the Gospel deep within our hearts so that our daily lives will be steady lights shining in the darkness in our world.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
November 7-8, 2020