PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 THES 4:13-18
It is hard to read the Gospel words, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” without thinking of my own vigil as I prepare for Baby #4 to make his or her way into the world sometime this month. In fact, the midwife at my last appointment said as much. “It could be soon,” she said with a shrug, “or it could be weeks. Just be ready.”
Our Gospel tells us to be ready for the second coming of Jesus through the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The return of Jesus (hopefully not like my baby) is much delayed. The parable offers encouragement for the wait and a warning not to be caught unaware.
The parable tells us that five wise virgins and five foolish virgins went out to meet the bridegroom. What distinguishes the two sets of women is that those who are wise bring flasks of oil for their lamps while the foolish ones do not. While waiting they all fall asleep (for which there is no condemnation) but when the bridegroom arrives unexpectedly, only the wise virgins are ready with oil to light their lamps. They go into the wedding with the bridegroom while the foolish virgins, who lack oil, are left out.
The question for contemporary readers is what the oil represents. The evangelist Matthew tells us earlier that we should let our light shine before others in the Sermon on the Mount, which presumably means our good works. So as we wait for the coming of Jesus, we should be prepared with with good works—kindness, good relationships, self-sacrifice, etc.
From my own experience waiting for my baby and trying to stay prepared, this waiting can be very stressful. It is easy to start to get down on ourselves when our behavior is less than stellar and begin to worry about the coming of the bridegroom, and maybe our own status as foolish. The first reading cautions against relying too much on our efforts to prepare.
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.
In other words, maybe our own love of the bridegroom and our willingness to wait for him will be rewarded as He, like wisdom, hastens to make Himself known. And while good works are certainly necessary in showing our love of Jesus, perhaps the most potent oil for our own lamps is simply an untiring love of Him.