32nd Sunday (A)

The Tragedy of an Unprepared Life

Today the word of God invites us to focus our attention on one of the attitudes most characteristic of the Christian life, namely hope. It is good that in the Gospel Jesus makes us aware of the risks we run if we do not prepare diligently for his coming. Matthew’s discourse in chapters 25 and 26 are a reflection on the end times and the second coming of Christ.  After speaking of the destruction of the temple (Mt 24:1-3) and the end of the age (Mt 24:4-51), the Evangelist takes up the parable of the wise and the foolish bridesmaids, which Jesus used to illustrate teachings about the coming of the Kingdom.  Jesus speaks often about the need to be watchful and prepared for his arrival. He wants to convey the message that time and life should not be wasted away but put into good use.

In Lk: 12/35-40 Jesus urges us to be vigilant like the servant who awaits the arrival of his Lord even in the mid night. We know the kind of practice and hard work the athletes and other players and contestants of Olympic Games and other international events put in, in order to win and receive the medal. Similarly Jesus wants us to have a lifelong awareness and preparedness to receive eternal life. So in  1 Cor: 9 : 25 we read that everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

In the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant Jesus tries to drive home that one has to be watchful like the faithful servant who looks after the other servants and treat them well thinking that the Lord of the house can arrive at any movement- Lk: 12/41-46. If we are going to be like the unfaithful servant enjoying the life and even punishing and abusing the fellow servants and others, we are sure to be punished by the Lord as well.

We see this being repeated in the Gospel of St. Mark: 13/ 33-37. It is the human nature that one starts to develop a sort of taken for granted kind of attitude with regard to the routine things we do in life. So there is always the need to remind ourselves that we need to be vigilant and awaken at every moment and day, that even if whenever we are called up we need not panic or feel frightened that we are not prepared.

The parable tells a story which could have happened at any time in a Palestinian village and which could still happen today.  Since the bridegroom might come to the bride’s house unexpectedly, the bridal party had to be ready at any time, with accompanying virgins (bridesmaids in our day), carrying lighted torches and reserve oil in jars.  Five of these virgins, who, having forgotten to bring an extra jar of oil had to run to the dealers to buy some, and so missed the arrival of the groom’s party, lost their chance to take part in the celebration.

The meaning of the parable: This parable has both a local and a universal meaning.  The local meaning is that the foolish virgins represent the “Chosen People of God” who were waiting for the Messiah, but were shut out from the messianic banquet because they were unprepared. “The division between the wise and the foolish virgins becomes the division between those in Matthew’s church who keep the commandments of Christ, the new lawgiver of the church, and those who hear his words but fail to do what he commands.” (Fr. Reginald Fuller).  The universal meaning is that the five foolish virgins represent those who fail to prepare for the end of their lives.  What matters is not the occasional or the last-minute burst of spiritual fervor but habitual attention to responsibilities before God.  At the final judgment; there will be neither depending upon the resources of others, nor begging or borrowing of grace.  The parable implies that we should attend to duties of the present moment, preparing now rather than waiting until it is too late.

Have enough oil, that is, have a good relationship with God: Literally, our text answers the question, “What shall we do while we wait?”  The answer is:  “Make sure you have enough oil for your lamps.”  The Scripture scholars of the past and the present have reflected on what this oil symbolizes, and they have arrived at different but related views.  (i) Perhaps, the best explanation is that the oil stands for our personal relationship with God who is the Source and Power behind our good deeds or “fruit-bearing” (Matthew 3:8, 10; 7:16, 17, 18, 19, 20; 12:33; 13:8, 23, 26; 21:19, 34, 41, 43).  It is not something that one can attain overnight or borrow from someone else as the foolish virgins attempted to do.  This “state of grace” is something we must receive from God personally and directly. (ii) In Scripture, oil is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  It is when we submit our work, our intentions, our purpose to the Holy Spirit that He fills our deeds with power and effectiveness. (iii) Oil stands for character and Christian values, which we cannot borrow – or buy, the foolish virgins’ choice.   (iv) Oil stands for “spiritual capital” (our merits) – all that we build up by good works:  concern for the needy and acts of justice.  (v) Perhaps, oil refers to real Christian Faith.  (vi) Oil is the spirit of reconciliation with the others and a willingness to share our lives and its blessings with others.  (vii) Oil may also be a generic reference to faithful and obedient discipleship as defined by the whole Gospel.

Warnings given by the parable: 1) The parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute:  a) a good relationship with God, b) good character, c) merits from good deeds of sharing and forgiving love and humble service done to others. 2) The parable also warns us of certain elements in Christian life that cannot be borrowed: a) relationship with God, b) ideal character, c) Faith.

If we truly love God and hope in him, his delay will not be an obstacle to our keeping vigil and we will not fall into inactivity. Hope keeps us awake, fills us with the resources we need to make our waiting fruitful. It makes us more diligent and never less loving. In a world where there is little hope, we Christians who love the one who is to come have a mission to accomplish: to fill the darkness with light until the day of the Lord comes. St. Paul also tells us that we should have clear idea of what is to happen at our death. If we have prepared ourselves and lived a life as per the will and wish of the Lord then we are sure to receive the eternal life, which is the fulfilment of our hope.