November 6, 2005 - Pentecost A +25
1 This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven. Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were careless while the others were sensible.
3 The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were and did not bring extra oil. 4 But those who were sensible, brought with their lamps flasks of oil. 5 As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
6 But at midnight, a cry rang out: 'The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!' 7 All the maidens woke up at once and trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the careless ones said to the sensible ones: 'Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 The sensible ones answered: 'There may not be enough for both you and us. You had better go to those who sell and buy for yourselves.'
10 They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast, and the doors were shut.
11 Later the rest of the bridesmaids arrived and called out: 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' 12 But he answered: 'Truly, I do not know you.'
13 So, stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
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The three parables that follow tell us how to await the return of Christ, being alert and active. The first, "the ten bridesmaids" is the most beautiful parable on fidelity. The ten girls followed the custom of waiting through the night for the bridegroom who will be accompanied to his house. The bridegroom is late, something that should astonish no one. The bride is not mentioned: perhaps they will discover at the end that there was no other than themselves.
They fell asleep. Once the sun has set, all is dark and nothing more can be done (Jn 9:4). No further work except fidelity of heart (Dt 5:2): oil will be needed to keep the flame alive.
Here as in other places, the Gospel shows us that more than conversion and enthusiasm is needed: it is necessary to last (7-24). Being sure of having a reserve of oil is to take the means that enable us to persevere in our vocation.
Some will say that Matthew has placed this parable here for the benefit of the first Christians, for after having awaited the return of Christ, they saw that nothing happened. Error! Jesus speaks to the believers of all times. For them one day or another fidelity becomes burdensome: "I did not know to what I was committing myself." There lies the grandeur of fidelity. It cannot be known in advance; giving one's hand to God is a jump into the unknown. Only through this perseverance can we be saved (Mt 24:13), in other words, find ourselves.
The Lord demands faithfulness and perseverance from those he has chosen: this is how we save a world that seeks truth everywhere and does not know to which Lord to surrender.
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1. Who comes off better? The beggar of oil from another or the refuser of oil to another? You may say this is about staying awake to save yourself, but the question of faithfulness to the community cannot be overlooked to justify personal salvation.
None are saved until all are saved. It is time to hold a new conversation between people beyond, "Gimme!" and "Go to Hell!"
2. If we move this story out of end-time and into present-time the starkness of the difference between people can be instructive. Here a value is being placed on a virtue of patience. GOD is steadfast in love. What are you steadfast in? How do you stick to your vocation of expressing your gifts?
3. It is indeed difficult to not find fidelity burdensome. Persistence is not uniform. There are times we are full of it and times in which we only have a fingernails worth. In the end we are back to community as an important lens here.
In times when I falter I need to be supported by you. In time you, too, falter need to be supported by me.
Stay awake can be heard to be spoken to those who kept their oil, as well as for those who squandered theirs, for they missed an opportunity to support, to show steadfast love toward a neighbor.
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