It’s turning colder and the days are getting shorter. It’s great to be able to flick a switch to push the darkness and the cold away. We live in blessed times! But how do we switch on to the teaching of Jesus, especially when we sit with Parables like the one given for this Sunday?
The Kingdom of Heaven is first, a new way of seeing reality and a new way of living in that new reality. Disciples must be transformed away from the ordinary and have the courage to act in the world in an extraordinary way. This is not easy. Saint Paul, writing to the new community in Corinth (2:5,17) said that ‘anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.’ Today’s Parable explores this theme but highlights the danger of missing the main event.
From the outset the Parable is strange. Usually only one person awaits the bridegroom – the bride. But here we have ten. The bridegroom is obviously Christ but who are these others who are separated as wise or foolish? The call goes out that in the darkest moment the bridegroom has arrived. Lamps must be lit so He can recognise the faces of those who are waiting for Him. But lamps don’t work without oil. The foolish have none, and the wise seem to be really selfish when they tell them to ‘go and buy some for yourself’. The truth about the oil is that we have to have our own. Each of us must listen to the teaching of the Christ and make it our own. We cannot fly on the ticket of anyone else. Each person’s lamp must produce its own wattage.
In the writings of the early Christians, Isaac of Nineveh wrote, ” There is a Love like a small lamp, fed by oil, which goes out when the oil is ended; or like a rain-fed stream which goes dry, when rain no longer feeds it. But there is a love, like a spring gushing from the earth, never to be exhausted”. The wise virgins are in touch with this river. So their oil is continuously replenished and not consumed. The foolish have not found it yet. They live by buying and selling. They keep looking outside of themselves for what can only be found within. Worse still, right to the end, the foolish think that it is Jesus, implored as Lord, who will open the door for them. They have not understood that the Kingdom of God has been given to them and they can only open the door by themselves. It is the lamp of their new vision and the oil of Love which will open the door. The Parable insists that we must grow up, stand on our own feet and do the will of the Father for ourselves. Even the disciples who claim to have healed, prophesied and cast out devils ‘in Jesus name’ (Matt,7:21-23) are told it is not enough. The Parable concludes with a caution that we must stay awake to this truth. Every breath we take is the day or the hour when He might come.
Ghandi once said, “My life is my message”. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel, but use words only when necessary”. The last words of Bhudda to his followers was, “Be a light unto yourself”. Martin Luther cautioned, “You are going to die alone, you better believe alone”. Silesius asked, “What good if Gabriel hails the virgin and does not hail me?”
This is the delicate balance needed to be a disciple of Jesus. On the one hand we proclaim from the heart that “He is Lord”. Yet worshipping Him from afar with extravagant praise and petition is not enough. We cannot ride Him as if he was a horse. He must be invited to take up residence in our hearts. Allowed to build us up from the inside. To confirm us a beloved daughters and sons of God and as sisters and brothers all who really, really care for each other. This is how the Divine pleasure flows through us. Perhaps that is why Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ living in me”. (Gal:2,20). The Parable of the ten virgins alerts us to the situation where we might know everything about Him, except the one thing necessary. But if we awaken to the truth. If we take His Truth to heart. The door opens. We are like a person locked in a room, calling to be freed, who realises we had the key all the time.