With a theme that is most fitting for the month of November, in which we focus on the “last things,” today’s liturgy reminds us that we should always be ready to meet the Lord. St. Paul speaks of the Second Coming of the Lord in today’s selection from his First Letter to the Thessalonians. The Apostle tells us to have hope and to be consoled because everyone who believes in Jesus Christ – those who have gone before and those who are still in this life when he comes – will all rise and be with him for all eternity. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him.” Paul tells us to console one another with this message. It is indeed consoling that “we shall be with the Lord unceasingly.” But to be with him, we must be wise!
The parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel contrasts wisdom and foolishness, personified by the wise and the foolish bridesmaids. The symbolism is clear: the groom is Christ, and we all are the bridesmaids. Our one task is to welcome him. Since we do not know when he will come – either at our own death or at the end of time – we must be ready at all times to greet him. This is what Jesus means when he tells us the moral of the story at the end: “Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour.”
If we are ready for the Lord to come, we do not need to fear. The moment of death, or the end of the world, are presented in the parable not as a negative event but as something very joyful, the arrival of the Groom. Being “ready for death” does not mean being joyless or anxious. Death will be joyful for us if we are ready. If we are not, we will be “locked out.” The popular opinion nowadays is that everyone will enter into heaven anyway. The gospel hits this idea like a splash of cold water. Jesus says that those who are foolish run the risk of hearing these frightening words: “I tell you, I do not know you.”
We can compare our readiness to meet the Lord to our readiness to welcome an unexpected guest to our home. If the house is clean, and we are ready with food to offer when a guest arrives, it is a joyful event. However, if someone arrives unexpectedly and we are not ready, we are not happy that he arrived, and may even be tempted not to welcome him.
Can we be ready all the time? Yes! The parable shows that Jesus does not expect us to be physically awake all the time – that would be impossible. All the virgins, wise and foolish, fall asleep. What we need is a continuous inner disposition of readiness, which remains strong no matter what other things may require our attention. This disposition remains even when we are asleep. It is symbolized by the supply of oil. Again, this is not physical oil, or any other physical thing. It is an attitude, an inner stance that can only be obtained by personal decision. The wise virgins are not being selfish; they simply cannot give any oil to the foolish ones. There are some things that cannot be done for us by others. Each of us is personally responsible for his own inner life. If we are not ready, we cannot blame anyone else.
To keep the flame of our love for God alive in our hearts, and to maintain a ready supply of oil, we need wisdom. The first reading teaches us that wisdom is readily available to all who truly want it. “Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” The word of today’s liturgy provides us with abundant wisdom. Let us hear this word and put it into practice. That is, let us not “run out of oil,” but rather remain strong in hope, always ready to respond to the living presence of the Lord, the Groom who comes to us.
In what way am I spiritually wise? In what way am I foolish? How can I develop a disposition of readiness for the Lord? Do I take responsibility for my own spiritual growth?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.