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Gospel Reflection 12 Nov

Thirty-second Sunday [Mt 25:1-13]

12 November 2017

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

Readings: (1) Wis 6:12-16 (2) 1Thess 4:13-18

1.  Theme in brief

Wisdom and foolishness in Christian life

2.  Focus Statement  

We ought to live our Christian life wisely with sufficient foresight and be prepared to meet Christ with the light of faith burning in our hearts even if he comes at an unexpected hour.

3.  Explanation of the text

Going beyond the strict understanding of a parable, this Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (or Virgins) hints at word for word meaning for its contents (as in an allegory): the bridegroom is Christ; his arrival isParousia (that is, the second or final coming of Christ); the wise and foolish bridesmaids are the good andbad Christians waiting to meet Christ at Parousia; the wedding banquet is the joy of God’s Kingdom yet to come (heaven); the lamp seems to be our faith; and the oil are the good works or authentic Christian life. Some authors consider God’s grace as the oil which keeps the lamp of faith burning. Surprisingly, thebride is never mentioned in this parable; maybe because the Bridegroom (Christ) is the central figure here. But from the commonly used image of the NT, we can very well conclude that the bride’s presence is presupposed and she along with the other ten maidens are none other than the Church or Christian community waiting for the Lord to return.
The text says that among the bridesmaids who went to meet the bridegroom, five were foolish and five were wise (25:1-2). It points out the difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids: the former ones take the provision of oil for their lamps and the latter do not; the former know about the possibility of the bridegroom coming at any time (even at night), but the latter are sure that he will not come at night; and the former go with the bridegroom into the wedding banquet and the latter are shut out (25:10). The foolish virgins are foolish in many ways: they have plenty of opportunity to procure oil, but do not; whereas the wise ones do; they do not take their duty seriously; they are so forgetful, careless, negligent and lackforesight.
The main message of this parable is related to the main theme of Jesus’ preaching, namely, the Kingdomof God (or heaven as Matthew calls it). Those who respond to his message of the Kingdom with repentanceand faith will be rewarded when it will finally come at the end of times (also called Parousia) and those who fail to do so will be totally rejected as the foolish virgins were. This parable probably serves as a warningto early Christians who hoped for an immediate Parousia. It tells them that the Lord may be delayedbeyond their expectation and that they should prepare for the long wait reserving enough oil for their lamps. The return of the Lord – compared to the coming of the bridegroom to take his bride – is certain but the time is uncertain. Hence, the disciples should keep awake or be watchful always, for they know neither the day nor the hour of Parousia (25:13).
The Bridegroom is the Lord of surprises; he comes at midnight – the most unexpected time (25:6). Thereadiness of the wise virgins (25:10) indicates their preparedness to meet the Lord whenever he comes. His coming will separate the wise virgins from the foolish ones or those who are prepared from theunprepared ones.  The former ones will enjoy fellowship with the Lord and the latter will be rejected for ever. What a contrast: their joy and hope at the prospect and opportunity of meeting the bridegroom as maids of honour is suddenly shattered due to their lack of foresight. Once the Bridegroom arrives, there is neither the time nor the opportunity for the five foolish virgins to change their minds or make reparation for their negligence, carelessness and foolishness. There is a point of no return which cannot be reversed. Any amount of "Lord, lord, open to us" (25:11) will not work after the door is shut (25:10) – indicating that admission into God’s Kingdom is not automatic, just because one calls oneself a Christian. Jesus has already said: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (7:21).

4.  Application to life                     

As the liturgical year is coming to an end, the Church, through this gospel text, invites us to be prepared for the end of our lives or the end of the world by following the example of the wise virgins. The whole Church is like a Bride waiting to meet the heavenly Bridegroom when he comes at Parousia and to rejoice with him in the Kingdom of heaven. [Note: Here Matthew speaks about the future aspect of God’s Kingdom by beginning this parable: "Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like this," 25:1]. Like the wise virgins we should persevere in good works to keep our faith alive. Christians who take their faith seriously and try to live by it are like the wise virgins and those who do not are like the foolish ones. We have to ask ourselves whether we are like the wise or foolish virgins in spiritual matters, or whether we live our Christian life wisely or foolishly, alertly or carelessly, and warmly or lukewarmly. It can happen that we get fed up of waiting for God and sleep over our duties. Just as the foolish virgins weren’t prepared for a long night ofwaiting and watching, we too can become careless to keep our faith burning brightly during the long waiting till Jesus returns or till the end of our lives. Lack of God’s miraculous intervention in our life (as we wish) may lead to tepidity (half-heartedness), routine and sleepiness (laxity and inactiveness).
Today we need to examine ourselves once again whether we are awake or asleep. Just like any wise driver who takes an extra wheel in his vehicle, foreseeing the possibility of getting a puncture in one of the tyres during the journey, we too need to apply similar farsightedness in spiritual growth and building up our character. None of us may want to hear these words at the end of our lives: "Truly I tell you the truth, I do not know you" (25:12). This is said of those who those who claim to be Christians only nominally, who go through certain religious rituals and traditions routinely, but do not take the values of the gospel as thenorm of their lives. They only pretend to be what they actually are not. Hence, the gospel invites us to get rid of our spiritual complacency and take advantage of every opportunity we get to nourish our souls with God’s Word and sacraments, which give us the required energy to persevere in good works. Otherwise, we may get nothing after hoping for everything.
That all the ten virgins took lamps with them and were waiting for the bridegroom indicates, though all are Christians, some are so foolish that they do not possess oil. They have ‘lamps’ (faith) with them but lack ‘oil’ (good works or authentic Christian life). Due to lack of grace they are not able to oil their faith and progress in Christian character. Faith by itself, without good works, is dead (James 2:17) – the same as a lamp that has no oil in it. The folly of the foolish virgins consisted in their lack of foresight to think of the possibility of bridegroom coming late and not making provision for his delay. In this parable,  we are almost shocked at the selfishness or uncharitable behaviour of the wise virgins who refused to share their oil with those who begged for it (25:8). Good works, character and virtues can neither be borrowed nor be transferred to others, nor be obtained at the last minute. They need to be cultivated or earned with diligent efforts everyday by taking personal responsibility for our spiritual life and Christian commitment.
This parable further teaches us that we ought to keep the light of faith burning in our hearts till our heavenly Bridegroom comes to meet us at an unexpected hour. At any time in our life’s journey we may meet a serious crisis. When we enter into marriage/ religious life/ priesthood or take up any new responsibility or leadership roles, we do not know what challenges/ trials/ crises are awaiting us on the way. We should presuppose that there will be enough temptations on the way to be unfaithful, to slacken our initial enthusiasm and give up the fight. We need to apply the principle of foresight every now and then like the wise virgins to avoid evil and disaster by anticipating it in our minds or reflections. We need to ask ourselves whether we have the extra oil in reserve to resist the winds that may blow against our call and mission in life. In order to meet any crisis or eventuality on our life’s journey, like the wise virgins we need to be alert and make long-term preparation with sufficient reserve of oil. This oil is acquired by our contact with God, imbibing spiritual values and allowing them to be engraved in our hearts and building up our character day by day. Instead of doing so, we sometimes take it easy and neglect or postpone our duties.Carelessness in spiritual matters may make us easy victims to forces of evil and secular values.
Many of us suppose that only the foolish virgins slept off when the bridegroom delayed his arrival. But the text says clearly that all of them became drowsy and slept (25:5). At times, all of us sleep away our Christian life and commitment instead of living it. God gives us plenty of chances to mend our ways. But we cannot fool around for ever. Life is a serious venture and we must accept responsibility for our actions. Lack of farsightedness and preparedness may result in irreversible consequences like the foolish virgins. Once the door will be shut, any amount of knocking and pleading will not work. Once the opportunities pass us by due to our sleepiness, a sudden disaster may fall on us. Then it is useless to cry over spilt milk.

5.  Response to God's Word

Are we like the foolish virgins or wise ones who do not build their life purely on human resources and power? Do we live our Christian life wisely or foolishly, alertly or carelessly, and warmly or lukewarmly? Do we take our faith seriously and try to live by it like the wise virgins? Or are we nominal Christians who go through certain religious rituals and traditions routinely, but do not take the values of the gospel as the norm of our lives? Do we take advantage of every opportunity we get to nourish our souls with God’s Word and sacraments? Do we have sufficient foresight to keep spiritual stamina in reserve to resist the winds that may blow against our call and mission in life? Are we farsighted in spiritual growth and building up our character? What are the blunders we make due to our lack of farsightedness and preparedness to meet crises in life? In what way we neglect, postpone or sleep away our spiritual duties?

6.  A prayer

O heavenly Bridegroom, we are awaiting your second coming like a Bride with the light of faith burning in our hearts till we meet you. Come and receive us into your heavenly banquet. We regret for the times when we slept away our Christian life and commitment like the foolish virgins, instead of living it. Grant that we may be wise, shrewd and careful to carry out our spiritual duties and not foolish enough to build our life purely on human resources and power. Amen.

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