32nd Sunday, Ordinary Time
Cycle “A” – 2017
One of my father’s favorite sayings, when I way growing up, was: “BETTER TO HAVE IT AND NOT NEED IT; THAN NEED IT AND NOT HAVE IT!” This saying applied “across the board” to almost any and every life situation: “Should I take a jacket?” “Should we “top off” the gas tank?” “Do we need a reservation?” — “Better to have it and not need it; than need it and not have it!”
And this seems to be the gist of this (evening’s/morning’s) Gospel as well!
Today Jesus tells a parable about ten young women – bridesmaids – who had a very specific responsibility in a Jewish wedding celebration. It was their job, (when the groom had finally finished the prenuptial negotiations regarding his bride’s dowry), to light his, and his bride’s way, to the wedding feast, at the groom’s home, where the actual marriage would take place. In Jesus’ parable the groom was late and the bridesmaids fell asleep. (No doubt, a very common occurrence since “bartering” at great length over the dowry was considered to be very “complementary” to the bride; NOT because the groom was reluctant to pay her dowry (or “bride-price)”; BUT, because her father and/or her brothers were unwilling to part with such a priceless treasure!) — So, while the men bargained; the bride and her retinue waited elsewhere in the bride’s house, in full wedding garb, ready to proceed through the town to the banquet at the groom’s house, the moment the negotiations were completed!
As Jesus told the story, it was midnight when the cry was finally sounded, “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” All ten bridesmaids then rushed to ready their lamps for the procession; but, because the negotiations for the bride had taken so long, the oil in their lamps was almost completely used up!
Jesus said that: Half of the bridesmaids were SMART. So, they planned ahead for just such an emergency; and brought along EXTRA FUEL.
The other five bridesmaids were not so far-sighted! They forgot the MAIN REASON that they had been asked to be a part of the wedding party. Perhaps they got side-tracked by their beautiful wedding finery or the exciting prospect of having their hands and feet dyed red with henna (as was the custom of the day). Whatever their excuse, these five didn’t bring extra oil for their lamps, and when they asked the wise bridesmaids for some of theirs; they were refused! — What choice did they have but to head for the closest “Wal-mart” to buy more lamp oil?
While they were out shopping, the wedding procession wound its way through the village to the groom’s home, and the merriment began! When the five “unprepared bridesmaids” finally made it to the party; they found themselves both, “locked out” and “left out.” And Jesus ends the parable with the WARNING: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
WHAT DOES THIS PARABLE MEAN? It means that one day, (and we don’t know when) – Jesus, the bridegroom, will appear to invite us HOME, to the eternal wedding feast of heaven; and when he does, WE’D BETTER BE PREPARED! — We’d better have enough OIL for our lamps so that they’ll be burning brightly.
And WHAT kind of OIL will we need?
Many Scripture scholars believe that the OIL refers to our “GOOD WORKS” which are not transferable from one person to another. (That’s WHY the bridesmaids who had extra oil couldn’t “share” with those who weren’t prepared, when the bridegroom arrived!) THESE GOOD WORKS represent how we’ve RESPONDED to God, over the course of our lifetime, in WORD and DEED!
TWO WEEKS AGO, Jesus told us that the “GREATEST COMMANDMENT of the law” is, quote: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (And) The SECOND is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”……… And, LAST WEEK, Jesus told us that, “The greatest among you must be the servant of all.”
In other words, OUR GOAL IN LIFE SHOULD BE to IMITATE JESUS (who shows us the WAY HOME TO THE FATHER)! Did Jesus love God with his whole heart and soul and mind? YES indeed! —- In fact, Jesus’ said that His whole REASON FOR BEING was to do the WILL of the FATHER who sent Him.
Did Jesus love His neighbor as Himself? YES indeed! And how do we KNOW? Because the Gospels are FILLED with countless examples of how JESUS SERVED those in need — MODELING for us the fact that for LOVE to be REAL, it has to be “lived out” in concrete acts of service! — In other words, LOVE and SERVICE is what it’s all about!
Is there ever a point when we can sit back and say, “I think I’ve done enough?” (“I think I have more than enough OIL in my lamp?”) — Honestly, I don’t know! — But I do know, (from years of having it drummed into my head), that it’s “BETTER TO HAVE IT AND NOT NEED IT; THAN NEED IT AND NOT HAVE IT!”