We are drawing this liturgical season to the end before we start anew with Advent in 3 weeks. And so, our readings are apocalyptic, they are about the end times. They are about the final coming of the Lord Jesus, and the consummation of all things. And so, we are asked to reflect on these dark, but still illuminating matters.
Our 2nd reading is from the first letter St. Paul to the Thessalonians. It is the earliest letters of New Testament, written about the year 50, about 20 years before the first Gospel. Paul is writing about the one event which changed his life. Paul encountered the Risen Jesus and the realization of that truth of Jesus Christ changed his life. It revolutionized his thinking, his acting, his very being.
So, Paul is writing to the Thessalonians about that faith, about the life and thought we should have as Christians. Paul writes, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise. The crux and the heart cry of the Christian faith, is the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we who are have been baptized, we are in Christ Jesus, we hope to also be raised from the dead.
In the light of this truth of the Resurrection, everything changes. The things of this world fall into relative insignificance. Our whole life should be re-arranged, re-thought, because in Christ we who die in Christ will rise with Christ. There must be a transformation of our lives.
At the time of writing this letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul thought that he was living in the end times, that very soon Christ would come back again for the final judgement, and take with Him those who were baptized into him. Paul’s message was urgent, and so Paul was trying to get the people ready. Of course, Christ didn’t come at that time. We are now 2000 years after Paul, and we are still waiting. But do you see, we are waiting in the same hope as Paul. We have that same hope Paul and the people had. Paul thought the final coming and the end of time was imminent, we now know it wasn’t; but yet- we also don’t know when it’ll come- if it’ll be 10, 100 or 5000 years, we don’t know. But still the hope is the same, and so the being ready should be the same.
Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew, written about 30 years later after Thessalonians. Matthew gives a parable which is only found in his Gospel- it is as if Matthew is writing for the same people who were waiting in expectant hope. This parable is about a wedding- the groom, bride, and the wedding party. The wedding party is what we call the groomsmen and the bridesmaids. Maiden- means virgin. In this parable, we hear the brides maidens, the virgins, go out to wait for the groom to come. It is helpful to understand part of the wedding ceremony. In Jewish custom, marriage began with the betrothal. During this time, the groom-to-be would prepare a home for them to live in. When the home was ready, in the evening, he would then walk across town and go to the home of his betrothed and bring her into their new home, where the week-long festivities would take place. The virgins or bridesmaids, would go outside with torches to help light the way for the groom-to-be. So that is the custom that Jesus calls to mind in this parable.
“The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom”. Now keep in mind- this is taking place in a 1st century Jewish village. They didn’t have electricity, flashlights, or any lights on the streets. And at night, it got very dark. So, if you were going to go outside you had to bring a torch to light the way. And if you were going outside for an unknown amount of time, you had better come prepared stocked with enough oil. In this parable, Jesus says that 5 of the virgins were wise and brought extra oil. And 5 of the virgins were foolish, and not prepared with extra oil in case something happened.
In this parable, the groom was delayed, just like today we might think Jesus is delayed in his second coming. Because the groom was long delayed, the virgins fell asleep. Then suddenly they hear the announcement that the bridegroom has arrived, and they get up and spring into action. The 5 wise virgins filled their torches with their extra oil, but the 5 foolish weren’t ready and had to go buy more oil. Now obviously, being in the middle of the night, there was not a place open to buy more oil. So, obviously the ones who were ready and well prepared were able to enter into the wedding feast.
The point of the parable being, when Jesus, our bridegroom comes, there is no time to suddenly get ready and go find more oil- we have to be prepared here and now for whenever He comes. And even though it might not yet be the end of the world- we don’t know when it will be the end for you or I, so we must be wise and always be prepared. We know Jesus is coming again. But like St. Paul, and like the virgins, we don’t know when Jesus is coming to bring us, the Church, his bride, into our new home. Therefore, we all are waiting- some are ready and prepared, stocked with oil; while others are waiting but not ready, not prepared.
So for our understanding, what does being prepared mean? What does the oil stand for? It stands for the divine life that we were given at our baptism. If you have been to a baptism recently, you know that a candle is given, and we are to keep that light burning brightly. So more precisely, the oil stands for prayer, Scripture, the Eucharist. It stands for study, the Sacraments, acts of charity, and other good works. It stands for all the ways in which we keep the faith alive in our hearts- that is the well-stocked lamp. So, the wise are those of us who are practicing these things and keeping the light of faith alive. The foolish are those who let their faith burn-out and die by their inactivity in these things.
So how often do you pray- everyday? How long do you pray for? Do you come to Mass consistently? How long has it been since you have been to the Sacrament of Confession? Each of these ways is how we stay prepared with enough oil. Do you study the faith- what kind of books do you read, what do you listen to in the car? Spiritual or theological books, and Catholic radio, are great ways to grow and keep the light of faith burning.
So, my brothers and sisters, the light of the divine faith can go out if we don’t keep it well stocked. Our bridegroom is coming, and if we are unprepared, we too might not be able to enter the wedding feast. And the hard truth of this parable is that we cannot take another’s oil, we cannot enter on another’s faith; but we have to be well stocked and alive in faith ourselves for when our bridegroom comes.BACK TO LIST