Parables are never as simple as they appear. Jesus teaches His eternal and vital message in ways that we both initially understand and yet keep reflecting on to access the deep mystery of God’s life giving words. We can never exhaust the meaning of God’s Word. As the years go by, I marvel at the new meanings and insights we gain as the Holy Spirit teaches us new depths of Truth in the Scriptures. Today we have the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.
The ten bridesmaids have the task of greeting the bridegroom to accompany him to the place of his wedding. There was no fixed time and it could be in the late evening the groom arrived. It was the bridesmaids task to avail of their lamps to guide the groom in the dark to see him safely to his beloved bride to be. Theirs was an important task at two levels: First, it was part of the pre-ceremony ritual and their involvement indicated how important the big day was to the friends and neighbours of the groom. Second, it was a means of ensuring the groom arrived safely and in good form, especially if he was nervous.
Experience teaches us things take their own pace. For the bridesmaids, five were ready for any eventuality and had made sure they had sufficient oil for their lamps. Five were not ready for any delay and did not have enough oil and when the bridegroom arrived they were absent trying to find a store to replenish their exhausted lamps. What does this say about how we must live as we serve in the Kingdom of God and await the fullness of Heaven?
When we are called to faith, we are called to the service of God. Ours is a proactive faith putting love into practice. Love is very demanding. Duty, service, compassion and concern need to exist in abundance if we are to succeed in what God asks of us. Unlike the foolish bridesmaids we must not skimp on the oil of God’s grace in our lives. We must be ready for the demand, for the long haul, for the duration of what Christian duty requires. We should be uncomfortable as Christians with a minimalistic approach. We must never approach any situation of concern asking ourselves: “What’s the minimum I can get away with?” When the Good Samaritan stopped to care for the injured traveller, he generously broke his journey on a dangerous road and put himself at risk. He impoverished himself in resources and money, seeing the injured man to safety and promised the innkeeper he would pay whatever it took for the man to be well again. The Good Samaritan had first an abundance of compassion which in turn was reflected in practical generosity. He had the attitude and the wherewithal to respond to need as it arose. So must we generously be awake and aware like the sensible bridesmaids.
Further, the wise bridesmaids felt a sense of privilege and honour that out of so many of the groom’s friends they had been selected for this important part of his wedding. May we never lose the sense of privilege we have as Christians, blessed with faith, members of the Body of Christ, beneficiaries of the death and resurrection of the Lord and sharers in the Eucharistic Banquet. This sense of privilege gave the wise bridesmaids a sense of the specialness of the occasion and this enabled them to resist sleep and be alert and on active duty for as long it took for the groom to arrive. We await the Lord as the Bridegroom to call us to Heaven. A Church asleep cannot keep watch for the world that is.
We have sympathy with the foolish bridesmaids. Life is demanding and we all grow weary at times. But we are reminded in this Gospel all we need do is to make sure in our morning offering and the graces given to us in the Church that we ask God for the grace to do whatever His love asks of us. There is no shortage of grace, only a shortage of requests for it. There is a health warning in this Gospel. We are called to lifelong service. We cannot live in distraction and then hope to put things right later on when we have more time for the things of God. We learn from the fact that the bridesmaids’ oil stock was inadequate and they cannot borrow oil from their sensible friends. We must live the holy and compassionate life God wants of us, we can’t borrow from our good friends at the last minute. Each of us must take responsibility for our lives. We are co-workers with Christ entrusted with the tasks of our vocation. These blessings and tasks are non-transferable, like the sensible bridesmaids’ oil.
Finally, the foolish bridesmaids were unable to attend the wedding, what did they miss out on? Well, a lot of joy, celebration and the feel good factor of satisfaction. A wedding in a Palestinian village was a highpoint in the whole village’s life. Everyone wanted to get in on the act and join the couple in their joy. People loved a delay as it heightened the sense of excitement and expectation. The wise bridesmaids would accompany the groom on a roundabout journey to his bride as so many people wanted to see him and wish him well. The responsibility was ongoing. Once the ceremony was over the attendants would accompany the couple about the village to their new home. They had a sense of oversight to accompany the groom/couple until they had completed their ceremony and were in the place where they would live their married life. The couple didn’t go away on a honeymoon but stayed at home with an open house for at least a week. It was the happiest week of their lives and they were referred to as ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’. These wise bridesmaids invite us to play our part in the happiness of others. To exercise oversight not only with our concern but also with our prayer asking the Lord to protect and bless those God sends our way. We are reminded of the shortness of time and the length of eternity. At the start of the first lockdown, I followed my usual shopping practice of doing my jobs and going later in the day to shop. I, like many of you, was amazed to see rows of empty shelves: milk, bread, rice, and even toilet rolls. I went home with my shopping list incomplete and with a definite sense that there was not enough oil in my lamp. We can all be caught out! If I can mix batteries: This Gospel helps us to be Ever Ready and like Duracell keep going when other people’s love and compassion can go no further.
Fr. Gerard X