32nd Sunday O T Year A – 17
Wis.6.12-16, 1Thess.4.13-18, Matt.25:1-13
There was a man with four wives. He loved his fourth wife the most and took a great care of her and gave her the best. He also loved his third wife and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, he always had a fear that she might run away with some other man.
He loved his second wife too. Whenever he faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always help him out. He did not love his first wife though she loved him deeply, was very loyal to him and took great care of him.
One day the man fell very ill and knew that he is going to die soon. He told himself, “I have four wives with me. I will take one of them along with me when I die to keep company in my death.”
Thus, he asked the fourth wife to die along with him and keep company. “No way!” she replied and walked away without another word. He asked his third wife. She said “Life is so good over here. I’m going to remarry when you die”.
He then asked his second wife. She said “I’m Sorry. I can’t help you this time around. At the most I can only accompany you till your grave.” By now his heart sank and turned cold. Then a voice called out:
“I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” the man looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the man said, “I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!”
Actually, we all have four wives in our lives.
- The fourth wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it’ll leave us when we die.
- The third wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they go to others.
- The second wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we’re alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.
- The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go.
How many of you have ever run out of gas? It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service.
One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”
Why, then, do we do it, seemingly as often today as people did years ago, when all of the advantages of technology were not available? In our gospel, it is not gasoline that is lacking, but olive oil “the fuel burned in the lamps of Jesus’ day.
And, I believe we will discover that the five foolish virgins did not really “run out” of oil; they never had it.
This parable is confusing for some people, but a little clarification goes a long way. The virgins are girls, bridesmaids. Virgin is just the standard word for an adolescent girl. Their job was to be a part of the procession, carrying lamps.
I used to think that the wise girls were really the selfish girls. I learned about sharing in kindergarten, but it seems that these girls did not. Why not share the oil? Then I finally heard, as if for the first time, the reasoning of the wise girls and realized that they were right.
There might not be enough for both. The oil each girl had in her flask might keep her lamp lit for 8 hours but would only keep two lamps lit for 4 hours. If they had shared the oil, they might have ended up with no light at all. It would be foolish to share the oil and burn through the limited supply twice as quickly.
What about the strange words of the bridegroom, “I do not know you”? The foolish girls went to town to buy some oil, and when they came back, presumably with well-lit lamps, they knock on the door respectfully. “Lord, Lord”, they say, “open up for us.”
He does not refuse to open, but simply admits that he does not know them. There is a parallel here between this parable and the end of the Sermon on the Mount, 18 chapters earlier. There Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you.’” The girls say “Lord, Lord.” The bridegroom says, “I do not know you.”
So, what do all these symbols mean? Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit: it is used in Baptism and Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick to signify the Holy Spirit. If that is the case, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit in this parable, for there are two kinds of oil container.
Some of the Holy Spirit is in a lamp, burning. Some of the Holy Spirit, at least for the five wise girls, is in a flask, not burning. So also, in every Christian, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit: there is the Holy Spirit that burns:
A jumping up and down, casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick with a touch, floating in the air kind of Holy Spirit, and then there is the Holy Spirit that does not burn – a quiet, prayerful, loving your neighbor, biting your tongue, suffering patiently kind of Holy Spirit.
Of course, there is really only one Holy Spirit, just as the oil in the lamps and the oil in the flasks was the same oil. It is not the Holy Spirit who is different; the difference is in the containers: our souls. Now all the girls had lamps, but only some had flasks.
Every Christian is glad to have the power of the lamp, but not everyone wants to do the work required to fill up the flask. Some Christians go so far as to consider the lamps to be the real Holy Spirit.
They gather on Sunday and speak in tongues and play music that sets their hearts on fire; they like to see miracles and healings and spectacular conversions. These are gifts from God; I do not denigrate any of this, but if this is all Christianity is for them, they are like the foolish girls: lamps but no flasks.
It is in quiet prayer that we fill our flasks. The Church is calling us to return to silence, uncomfortable silence. Not merely the absence of noise, but the space to pray.
It is in patient suffering that we fill our flasks. Suffering is either accepted or chosen. We can accept suffering in sickness or cruel treatment. We can also choose to suffer by fasting or vigils or discomfort. Our culture cannot understand why someone would choose to be uncomfortable or accept suffering gladly.
It is in loving that we fill our flasks, loving our neighbor and loving our enemies: forgetting ourselves. To love means to live for. If we love ourselves, we live for ourselves. If we love others, we live for them.
It is the will of God that we fill our flasks, so if anyone says to us, “Oh you with your boring Christianity”, while juggling snakes and drinking poisons and dancing in the aisles, if anyone tells us that we are missing something because we do not shout often enough, let us go on nonetheless, filling our flasks, waiting for the Bridegroom.
Although many things need to be said about how best to understand the meaning of this parable, four brief observations adequately suggest to us what Jesus was trying to say:
(1) The delay of the bridegroom plays a critical role in the story. Had the bridegroom not delayed, all of the virgins would have been ready and waiting when the marriage procession arrived, and they all would have accompanied the bridegroom to the feast. Only because the bridegroom was delayed were half of the virgins caught unprepared and not able to accompany him to the feast.
(2) The wisdom of the wise virgins consisted in their understanding that the bridegroom might be delayed. Why did the wise virgins take the flask of extra oil with them? Was it not because they had the foresight to anticipate that they might have to wait? Had they thought there would be no delay, it would have been completely unnecessary for them to carry extra oil.
(3) In the end, the only crime of the foolish virgins was not being ready to follow the bridegroom to the feast when finally, he came.
(4) The bridegroom’s response to the crime of these foolish virgins is severe: he bars them from entering the marriage feast altogether; and, more severely, he makes the astounding claim that he does not know them.
As a conclusion, let me make a reference to wise virgins. Why is wisdom referred to girls / women? Wisdom is presented as a woman because both in Hebrew (hokmah) and in Greek (Sophia) wisdom is a feminine noun.
So, let us love our first wife/husband. The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. We need proper preparation so that we can meet the Lord and enter into his Kingdom. Let us be ready always because we cannot ask for anything or borrow anything at the Pearly Gate. Amen.