November 12, 2017
A woman was telling how she got married 4 times; first, to a banker, then to an actor, next to a preacher and finally to an undertaker. “You know how it is,” she explained, “1st for the money; 2nd for the show, 3rd to get ready; and 4th to go!”
At the first sight this Sunday’s parable of the ten bridesmaids going out to meet the bridegroom seems rather unfair. It seems unfair that the five foolish bridesmaids are excluded from the wedding simply because they forgot to bring sufficient oil for their lamps. Another thing: why did not the wise ones share some of their oil with them? Were they not guilty of selfishness? In fact, the parable is deeper than it seems. There is far more involved than that little lamp’s oil.
It should be quite clear that Jesus is not talking about a momentary lapse of memory-forgetting to bring along some extra oil. What Jesus is dealing with are two contrasting attitudes towards the wedding feast. For the wise maids it was obviously the chance of a lifetime. It was something they really appreciated and for which they had prepared diligently. No way were they going to miss it. For the foolish ones it could be a bit of fun. They went along merely out of duty or habit. Deep down they really did not care. It was their whole attitude that was wrong, not just one little lapse of concentration or memory. In other words, they were not judged on one moment in their lives.
For us the lesson is quite clear. In the Gospel Jesus often compares the Kingdom of God and our salvation to a wedding banquet. And this parable tells us that we must prepare for that banquet that is for our eternal salvation. It also tells us about the possibility of finding ourselves locked out of the eternal banquet. When the Lord's call comes, either at the end of the world or at the end of our personal life, all that will count is the kind of persons we are, not what we have achieved or what we have collected. What if we should be caught unprepared, with no oil in our spiritual lamps? The parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the exam has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God.
Sometime ago, I visited a sick person. I anointed him, gave him Holy Communion. Before I left, I asked a question which many are afraid to hear: "Are you ready to see the Lord?" In my surprise, he replied: "Father, I have prepared for years, I am always ready." His answer shocked me and reminded me that I should ask myself: am I ready to see the Lord? To ask a question like this to the young and healthy people seems ridiculous. But the Lord would summon us, he would call us no matter if we are young or old, healthy or sick. Last week a typhoon destroyed a hundred lives near my hometown. 26 innocents were shot at a church service in Texas. On Thursday I buried a 46 year old lady. Many of you have passed her age long ago. If you have a chance to participate in a celebration of baptism, you would remember a moment when the priest (deacon) lights a little candle from the Easter candle, then hands it to the parent or godparent of a newly baptized and says, "Receive the light of Christ, and keep it burning brightly. When the Lord comes, you may go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom."
If we have made Christ our best and closest companion on the road of life, then it is unlikely that his coming will catch us unprepared. Death becomes an arrival. Funeral becomes a procession to the eternal banquet as St. Paul says in the second reading: "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died."