32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
12 November 2017
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
A certain young woman asked her brother to accompany her to the airport as her fiancé was due to arrive at 10pm. Unfortunately they were told the plane had been delayed and needed some small repairs but they did not know when it could depart. After midnight there was still no way of knowing when the plane would arrive. So her brother got tired and said he would go home and be back in time. But he fell asleep and was rather embarrassed when he woke up to find that the fiancé was already in the house having arrived very late. It was because the young woman loved her fiancé that she was prepared to wait no matter for how long or at what inconvenience to herself.
In the gospel today something like this took place in the parable Jesus told. In the Jewish culture of which the listeners and Jesus were a part, the custom was that the bride would wait with her bridesmaids, normally at the city gate, for the bridegroom to come and go to her house for the wedding feast. We must remember the conditions of travel then with no mobile phones either so there would have been no way of knowing when the bridegroom would arrive. It would have been a great shame for the family of the bride not to be ready when the bridegroom arrived no matter how late it was.
In the parable, Jesus tells us that 5 of the bridesmaids were foolish, as they took no oil with them should their lamps go out as they waited. 5 were wise and did take oil. The bridegroom was delayed and when the 5 foolish bridesmaids went to get oil as their lamps had gone out, the bridegroom came and went into the wedding feast with the 5 wise bridesmaids. The door was closed and the foolish ones came too late and were locked out.
We are being told in the parable that the Church is a procession of people making their way through life to meet the Lord when he comes. Some keep their lamps of vigilance lit, whilst others neglect to nourish their faith because of many attractions of our modern world which are not Christian or life-giving. The former are actively Christian, the others Christian in name only. So the wise and foolish bridesmaids are the 2 types of Christians, those who hear the word and keep it and those who hear it but do not keep it.
Jesus is telling us through this parable that he is the bridegroom who will come again to invite us to go with him, IF WE WANT TO. He will not force us, so the question in the parable today for us is ‘in which group of 5 are we? With the wise or with the foolish bridesmaids? As we wait for Jesus what is the oil that nourishes our waiting for Jesus? Some of us as we get older may get tired of waiting and maybe we seek different kinds of oil for our lamps – the oil of pleasure that is not life-giving, of overwork, drink, a love of money, even drugs. We may have good health and think that we’ll be around for a good while yet. But life can be tenuous and there are no guarantees as to the length of life. The second reading of St. Paul says that Christians are people of hope as they await the Resurrection.
But Jesus comes into our lives not only when we die but each day through the events of our lives. He is constantly reminding us. So when we are asked to help someone and we do, we meet Jesus in that situation. Or we can refuse. When we see so much violence on TV what is it saying to us about the certainty of a long life for us? Ultimately our only security is God. If we are honestly trying to follow Jesus then it doesn’t matter when he comes. So the gospel today is a call to conversion.
As we wait for Jesus to come how much more does he wait for us? His delight is that each one of us would respond positively because he wants each and every one of us to be with him. But he is a gentle God who will not force our response. If he comes and finds us not waiting for him, not interested enough to prepare for his coming, it is not God who will prevent us from going with him to the wedding feast when he comes. We choose ourselves not to go, doing our own thing, not too interested about God or his call.
Jesus is reminding us that there are certain things which cannot remain until the last minute no more than a student would wait for the last minute to start studying for exams. It can be easy for us to leave things too late to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Also there are certain things we cannot borrow just as the foolish bridesmaids found it impossible to borrow oil. We cannot borrow a relationship with God, we must possess it ourselves through daily fidelity. Even if we fail we can start all over again. God never gives up on waiting for us but we may give up on wanting to be with him. It was the love of the young woman which kept her waiting at the airport. May it be so with us in relation to God.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for wanting each one of us to be with you for ever in glory. Give us your powerful Holy Spirit so that we may fill our lamps with the oil of Faith, Hope and Love as we wait for you. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA