Updated: Nov 5, 2020
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. It is good to hear the Word of God.)
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus reminds us in another parable, that the Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. In Jesus' time, weddings were community events celebrating a new family. The feasting and dancing might go on for days! If the Kingdom of God is like this, who wouldn't want to be invited?!
We have considered before that the Kingdom of God may be more of a time, rather than a place. This parable seems to have a lot to do with time. Notice the word Jesus begins the parable with:
“Then the kingdom of God will be like this.
When is this “then” he is speaking of?
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
It would be a great honour to be chosen to be a bridesmaid. The job is an important one: to light the way for the bridegroom. Remember, there is no electricity, no street lights, no Google Maps! The bridegroom who arrives at midnight, needs the bridesmaids to light the way. But not all the bridesmaids take their responsibility seriously.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
The wise bridesmaids have taken the time to prepare for their task. Before coming to wait for the bridegroom, they have made sure that they have oil to fuel their lamp.
As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
Notice the time. In the parables, midnight is a time of unexpected change. Usually people are not awake at midnight. Some change is about to happen, but the time was not expected.
Before we go any further, can we say who the bridegroom is? Do we all agree that he is Jesus, the One who is Light of the world, the One who loves so much? Or God, the Giver of Life, the One who is Love? Let's take some time, then, to imagine the look on the bridegroom’s face as he recognizes the bridesmaids in the light from their lamps! He knows the bridesmaids, and the bridesmaids know him.
What, then, can we say these lamps are, that the bridesmaids carry?
What light do we carry?
In Baptism, we are called by name, we are chosen, just like the bridesmaids are chosen. We receive a candle lit from the Paschal candle, the sign of the light of the life of the Risen Jesus. Of course, our Baptism candle is probably lying in a box somewhere, unlit--but that's okay, it is only a sign. We know that we carry the light of the life of the Risen Jesus within us. If the bridesmaids' lamps are this light of the life of the Risen Jesus, how do they light the bridegroom’s way? What does our light do for the world? Why are we given it?
The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
At first, this just seems mean. Why don't the wise bridesmaids share their oil? The oil fuels the light, and keeps it burning. The bridegroom knows the bridesmaids by the light they carry. Perhaps then, the oil is something deeply personal, making each bridesmaid recognizable to the bridegroom.
What could this oil be? What keeps our light--the life of the Risen Christ--burning within us? Did we do something to earn the oil? Or is it all gift?
Prayer, the Word of God, the sacraments--all of these build our relationship with God. They are, in some way, the gift of time with God.
God gives us all of this and more so that we can keep our light burning brightly. God must desire relationship with us so badly. I notice, though, that we don't have to spend time with God; we don't have to accept the gift. I wonder why the 5 foolish bridesmaids had chosen not to accept the gift of oil? I wonder if they had forgotten who the bridegroom is.
And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’
The foolish bridesmaids have very bad timing, don't they? Can you imagine how it would feel to have the bridegroom say, ‘I do not know you’? What an awful thing to hear.
Why does he say, ‘I do not know you’? The foolish bridesmaids bought oil. Shouldn't he know them now?
Again, we notice the time. The foolish bridesmaids bought their oil at the last minute. They have not spent any time fuelling the flame of their light. If we remember that the oil is gift, that the light itself is gift--can we say that they have treasured the gift? If we remember that God so desires relationship with us, can we say we have a good relationship if we have spent no time nurturing it?
It is important for us to remember that the bridesmaids are chosen for a particular task. The bridegroom cannot come if the way is not lit. He needs us. We do not know when the Kingdom will be complete--we do not know when the then of this parable is--but we know that our light is necessary to light the way. It is necessary for the "when" of the Kingdom. To make our light shine brightly, we have to take the time to enter into this relationship with God. And God has shown us how. The oil is always available, but we have to take it.