Apparently Jesus based today’s parable around a typical marriage custom. The custom was that the bridegroom could should up whenever, and the bridal party had to be ready. This is because if you arrived at the party after the groom, you did not get in. And the party lasted a week, so you wanted to get in. Also, if the groom showed up at night, you had to have a lamp ready to go because you were not allowed on the streets at night with out a lamp.
Also, apparently part of the fun was for the groom to try to catch the bridal party napping. However, in our gospel today, Jesus raises the stakes dramatically. Not only are the foolish ones locked out of the party, but Jesus, God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, Jesus says to the foolish, “I don’t know you.” I think I have said this before, but these might be the most terrifying words in the Bible, if we think through what they really mean.
So, how do we make sure that we in the wise group and not the foolish group? How do we ensure that we have oil in our lamps? Well, I think we have a couple of hints in our readings.
The first hint is something that St Paul says in our second reading. We might have noticed that in our gospel passage, both the wise and the foolish are asleep. It is therefore not a question of being awake or asleep. Likewise, St Paul says to the Thessalonians, it doesn’t matter if someone is physically alive or dead when Jesus comes again. What St Paul does say, however, is: don’t live like those people who have no hope. St Paul therefore makes a distinction between those who do have hope and those who don’t. Perhaps then wisdom and hope go together, and on the flipside foolishness and hopelessness go together.
This might be interesting to pray about, since in our gospel the proclamation of the good news, that the bridegroom is coming, happens at midnight. It happens when it is dark. When there might be no light. Precisely when we might feel like giving up hope. So, how might oil, and wisdom and hope go together?
Perhaps one way to think about this is anticipation and planning. Those who have oil are ready for what is to come. They want the future and have lived according to it. Perhaps then the oil symbolises all the decisions they have made that are in line with that future, a future they hope for. Perhaps the oil is all the prayers they have made, believing that bridegroom really will come. This brings us to the second clue, the description of wisdom in our first reading.
Our first reading describes what sounds like a courtship, even a seduction. Wisdom and those who seek her growing closer and closer. What is emphasized, however, is that wisdom comes to those who seek her. Yes, wisdom is willing and able, yes, wisdom is available, waiting at the gates, yes wisdom surpasses all efforts to catch hold of her, but still: one’s relationship to wisdom is free. It is never imposed. One has to want her. One has to go looking for her.
Perhaps we might think about our baptism along these lines. A few weeks ago, I mentioned to our students that all human beings are candles, but saints are the ones who let the Holy Spirit set them on fire. We might develop this a little further. Perhaps we are lanterns. Perhaps through baptism, we know who we are waiting for, we know what the point of our lives is.
However, we still must appropriate our baptism. We still must live it out. We still must live in hope. We must follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit through prayer, and works of penance and charity. Little by little the Holy Spirit will anoint us. Little by little the Holy Spirit will fill up our souls with the oil of holiness. Little by little, we will be conformed to the image of the Son of God.
We might pray then we might truly live hopeful lives, lives that reveal to others the source of our hope, our faith that Christ is truly risen and already rules our lives. We might pray that whenever the call rings out that he is coming – whether that be in the cry of the poor, whether that be in our call for peace I the world, whether that be the still small voice in our hearts saying repent and follow me – we might pray that whenever that call comes, especially in the darkest moments, we will be ready to spring into action and follow him wherever he leads us.