Sunday, November 6, 2011


I had to laugh that on the morning when the clocks "fall back," we heard Jesus saying, "You do not know the hour..."

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Preaching on this Sunday’s gospel parable,
a professor at a Protestant seminary reached the heart of his sermon
and asked the students who filled the chapel,
“Young men, tell me,
would you rather be in the light with the wise virgins,
or out in the dark with the foolish virgins?” 
Needless to say, the service ended early!  (cf. M. Anders)

Back at the time Jesus walked this earth,
wedding celebrations lasted for days.
The climactic moment came
when the groom arrived at the bride’s house,
where waiting bridesmaids greeted him joyfully.
Sometimes, the groom would purposefully delay his arrival
to heighten the spirit of expectation
and maybe—just maybe—catch the bridesmaids off guard.

So, what was the big mistake
of those five foolish bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable?
Running out of oil was their first mistake…but not their biggest one.
Their big mistake wasn’t even falling asleep;
the wise virgins are caught dosing off, too.
No, their big mistake was running off to the store.  (cf. A. Giambrone)
For one thing, it was crazy to think they’d find a merchant
open for business in the middle of the night.
(No 24-hour shopping 2,000 year ago!)
But…think about it:
the whole reason they’ve been hanging around,
the whole reason they’re worried about lighting lamps at midnight,
is to meet the bridegroom when he arrives
and escort him into the wedding feast.
And they miss it!
They know he’s getting close…
…but they step away to try and buy some oil anyway.
Oh, if the groom had found their lamps grown dim
he might have been a little disappointed…
…but at least he’d be happy for the warm greeting
and most likely still bring them into the party along with him.
But instead of cutting their losses,
the five foolish virgins are completely absent from the scene
and so find themselves locked out in the dark.

In their effort to understand this parable,
Christians have put forth many theories
about how to understand the lamp oil of which Jesus speaks.
Some have speculated that the oil represents faith.
Some propose that the oil is our good works or our virtue.
But taking into account the “big mistake” of the five foolish virgins,
I’m most convinced by those who think the lamp oil
stands for a close, personal relationship with the Lord.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)
Isn’t that, in fact, what fuels us to do good and be good—
to allow our light to shine out before others?  (cf. Matt 5:15-16)
Such an interpretation makes sense
of the wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil—
since I can’t use or borrow someone else’s rapport with God.
It also makes sense
of the bridegroom’s response through the locked door:
“I do not know you.”

How much of that oil is in my flask?

I’ve been privileged on a few occasions to meet the Holy Father—
even to introduce my parents to the late John Paul II.
So I can, in some true sense, say, “I know the Pope!”
(And I even have the pictures to prove it.)
But wouldn’t it be another thing altogether
to be able to say, “The Pope knows me”?

So often, the criteria we use for evaluating our spiritual lives is,
How well do I know the Lord?
And by that we usually mean:
How well did I learn my catechism?
How often do I get to Mass? say the rosary? read the Bible?
But maybe a better question would be,
How well does the Lord know me?
How close have I allowed God to get?
How much do I share with him?
Have I invited God to be part of everything I do? 
Is our relationship rather formal…or truly personal?
a bit distant…or growing ever closer?

I enjoy local writer Mary White’s
occasional articles in the Press Republican.
She shared this great story in yesterday’s paper:
My mother's father died when he was 96.
There was a scene at his wake that I will never forget.
An old woman tottered in, bent over a cane.
She walked unsteadily up to my Aunt Mary
and grasped her hand with gnarled fingers.
Weeping openly, her weak voice trembled as she spoke,
"You never know, do you?"
From my young, cocky vantage point, I thought,
"Well, along about 96, you start to suspect."

Whatever our age, Jesus warns us,
“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
What I do know is that my time is limited,
and if I wait till the very end—
the end of my life, the end of this world as I know it—
then it will be too late to establish the sort of relationship
which God wants to start with me now,
and which God hopes will last into eternity.

Religious bumper stickers can be pretty funny,
yet still carry an important message.
There’s one you’ll sometimes see that reads:

That brings to mind the big mistake of the foolish bridesmaids.
But there’s another with a bit more wisdom behind it; it asks: 

And that—my friends—is the question.

What Christ the Bridegroom wants most is not your lamp…but you.


MizzLizz said...

Thank you, Father, for yet another look at a Biblical story that needs some interpretation in this 21st Century of bumper stickers,
videos and an ad-world that is at us from all directions! I'm so
glad to see that you included the note-worthy columnist, Mary White, as well. It seems to me you get right to the heart of the matter, the issue of our closeness to our Maker. Reminds me of words of the English mystic, the Baron Von Hugel, describing his spiritual experience: "God is That Which is closer to me than I am to myself".
How's THAT for "close"!!

Kim said...

Terrific! Sharing with friends. :)