Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.(P) The word of the Lord.
O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. (R)
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, for your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you. (R)
Thus will I bless you while I live; lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name. As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you. (R)
I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you: You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. (R)
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!" Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise ones replied, "No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves."
While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, "Lord, Lord, open the door for us!" But he said in reply, "Amen, I say to you, I do not know you." Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Before we proceed with today's gospel, let us recall what we have read over the past few weeks. We read that the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees tried to get Jesus into trouble by approaching Jesus and asking Him many questions, namely, about paying taxes to Caesar, about marriage at the resurrection and about the greatest commandment, Matthew (22:15-22, 23-33). But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, charged them with hypocrisy and pretentiousness, and pronounced upon them severe woes for rejecting prophets and Him and His message.
And then prompted by a question which His disciples asked about the sign and time of His "second coming" and the "end of the world", Jesus gave them a discourse on the Mount of Olives. He gave them no specific time of His return nor of the end of times but warned them of the great tribulation ahead for them and encouraged them to remain faithful to Him until His return. It is in this context that Jesus told them three parables so that they would know how they should prepare for His coming.
The first is the parable of the "ten virgins" or "ten bridesmaids", by which he encouraged His disciples to be watchful and to make preparations for His return. This parable was told against a cultural background that was so different from anything we know today. A brief overview of the first-century Palestinian Jewish wedding customs might help us understand the parable better. Unfortunately, we have no source that gives us a complete picture.
William Barclay, one of the most respected biblical scholars in the twentieth century, in his Daily Study Bible, describes the wedding customs in the first century Palestine or Israel this way: "A wedding was a great occasion. The whole village turned out to accompany the couple to their new home, and they went by the longest possible road, in order that they might receive the glad good wishes of as many people as possible. When a couple married they did not go away for a honeymoon; they stayed at home; for a week they kept their house open for their chosen friends to join the festivities. So, it was not only the marriage ceremony, but it was also that joyous week that the foolish virgins missed, because they were unprepared."
From other sources, we learn that, normally, on the wedding day the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to fetch the bride from her home. The ceremony took place at night, so the groom's party would usually set off to arrive at the bride's home sometime after sunset. One of the great things to do at a wedding was to catch the bridal party napping. So, the groom would come unexpectedly and, sometimes, in the middle of the night.
Meanwhile, the groom was required to send a man along the street to shout: "Behold! The bridegroom is coming!" but that would happen any time; so, the bridal party had to be ready to go out to the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chose to come. When the groom finally arrived, the virgins joined the entourage and escorted the bride in procession through the streets to his home where the wedding took place. They carried lighted lamps for the night journey and sang songs as they went. The festivities, which lasted several days, would formally get under way at the groom's house and the doors would be shut to latecomers.
In the parable, since the groom was delayed, all of the virgins grew tired and fell asleep. When they finally heard the shout, "The groom is coming", they woke up and trimmed their lamps. Unfortunately, five virgins discovered that they had no extra oil with them. Either they were lazy and thought it was unnecessary to bring it, or assumed that they could borrow from someone else, if in need. They did have some oil in their lamps, because when they asked other virgins for some oil they said, "our lamps are going out". But those virgins refused to supply the oil saying that they had only enough for themselves. Instead they admonished those unprepared to go and buy from the merchants.
While the "foolish" virgins set out to buy, the groom arrived, and the "wise" virgins, who had taken along enough oil for their lamps to cover any delay in arrival that might occur, went on to join the wedding celebrations. When the foolish virgins came back and found their way to the groom's house, the party had started and they were locked out. Knocking and screaming, they called for the groom to let them in. But to everyone's astonishment the groom replied that he did not know them, Matthew (25:1-13). In a very short time, the five virgins missed out on the anticipated celebration. Days, if not years, of dreaming, wishing, planning and waiting were all over in just a moment. Jesus then concluded the parable by saying, "Therefore, stay wake, for you do not know the day or the hour", Matthew (25:13).
Although this parable was primarily meant to comfort and warn all of Christ's followers, who would be living on this earth during the great tribulation, it is applicable to us as well. The second coming or the return of Christ is something that we all long for, even though no one "not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father, knows the day or the hour", Matthew (24:36). No true Christian lives his life without reading about it, hearing about it, thinking about it and hoping for it. Besides, we look at the return of Christ not only as the fulfilment of magnificent biblical promises but, also, as a deliverance from all the trials and tribulations that afflict us, from the painful reality of physical decay and from the fear of death. But the question, really is, how well are we prepared to meet Him on His return?
The Bible says, "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small", Proverbs (24:10). That is, the real test of our strength is not when things are going well, but how we react when things do not go well. We all know this: Regardless of our status, power and strength, we all faint under adversity or trouble or crisis at one time or another. For instance, during the times of significant personal loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, one's own health and wealth, we are tempted to give up, to lose hope, to despair and walk away from God. We sin, we slack off, and we don't do everything we could or should do for others.
We refuse to subscribe to Christian beliefs and observances and practices. I know many people who lived faithfully for God for a while and waited, hoped and longed for the Lord's return, but have become disappointed and, at times discouraged, and even given up on God altogether, no longer believing that Jesus is the Christ. You might be aware of your own family members or friends, some of whom even taught you catechism, prayers and introduced the Christian faith and traditions to you; but, today, they no longer believe in Jesus Christ. Do you ever wonder why? The reason is they lack that "special something" or "extra-oil" they need in times of trouble.
In the story, it was the lack of supply of oil which caused the five virgins or bridesmaids to be met with the words, "I do not know you". They did, of course, have some oil when they began but it was not enough. What does the oil signify? We learn that throughout the Bible the oil is widely understood as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Kings, prophets and priests were anointed with oil when they were called to office as a sign of their consecration. For example, Moses poured the oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him, Leviticus (8:12). Zadok, the priest took oil out of the tabernacle and anointed King Solomon, 1 Kings (1:39). Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers. Following the anointing, David received the "spirit of the Lord", 1 Samuel (16:13). We also recognize the direct symbolic link between the oil and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
For instance we can see that the Spirit of God gives the anointing to preach, which is just what Jesus said when He began His earthly ministry, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor", Luke (4:18). In the Book of Acts of the Apostels, it is written that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him", Acts (10:38). In other words, God set Jesus apart, and imbued Him with the influences of the Holy Spirit, thus consecrating Him for the work of the Messiah - to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils. It is an indication that Jesus depended on the Holy Spirit to enable Him to do what He was sent to do. The disciples and apostles were never anointed with oil but with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost so that they could continue what Jesus had started.
We also, as disciples of Jesus Christ, need the power of the Holy Spirit to be like Jesus, to lead us from our sinful ways and to show us the way of love and truth. In the life of Christians, nothing good happens without the inspiration, the guidance and the strength given by the Holy Spirit. Jesus affirms our need for the Spirit as well. He said of the Holy Spirit, "When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment... and He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you", John (16:8, 13-14).
Just like the bridesmaids who had oil in their "lamps" to start with, when we took on our journey of faith we were anointed with the Oil of Sacred Chrism at baptism, signifying the gift of the Holy spirit poured into our lives. By this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in His life. However, the great danger is that we could become contented with the mere fact that we are baptized and do little to grow in our personal faith life.
Today, we are reminded that our salvation depends on so much more than just being baptized. We need the extra oil separate from the oil we already have. We need to be filled and refilled with the Spirit of God. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event, but an activity we cultivate everyday as we commune with the Holy Spirit through prayer, Scripture reading, worship and being attentive to His voice.
Having this oil, in the end, makes a "radical difference." Those who have the Spirit of God will be able to endure all trials and tribulations until the end and be admitted to the heavenly feast, but those who do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Him and therefore, will be unable to join the eternal celebration, Romans (8:9).(P) Amen.
God Bless You!