Sunday, November 6, 2011

Enough Oil in One's Lamp

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray Thy kingdom come; and at Mass we conclude the Lord’s Prayer by saying as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (In three weeks, that will become as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ).
Yet I think it is safe to suggest that, despite what we say in our prayers and despite the intrinsic importance of the topic, most of us, most of the time, probably don’t expend a lot of energy thinking about Christ’s coming again. That’s except, of course, for those who do! They, however, sometimes seem to think about it maybe a little too much, as happens particularly with individuals or groups that think the Lord’s coming can be precisely predicted, especially in relation to events that may be presently occurring in the world.
Now, of course, there’s really not a lot that’s new about any of this. It’s obvious from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians, from which we just heard [4:13-18], that Paul’s audience apparently expected Christ’s coming to occur soon – and so were worried whether those who died in the interim would miss out on something. And Paul himself, while telling the Thessalonians not to worry about that, obviously also expected it to happen soon and expected to be alive himself, as he says, to meet the Lord in the air.
Meanwhile in today’s Gospel [Matthew 25:1-13], Jesus seems to be addressing least least two different groups, covering all the bases, so to speak. To those who think that the Lord’s coming can be predicted, he says you know neither the day nor the hour. Jesus says this at the end of a parable about a wedding feast – a standard image in both the Old and the New Testaments for the coming kingdom of God – but a wedding for which the bridegroom was long delayed.
On the other hand, to those apparently not so concerned about the Lord’s coming, Jesus cites the case of the five foolish virgins, who brought no oil with them, when taking their lamps, and so, when the bridegroom finally arrived, found the door to the wedding feast locked solid.
At an ordinary wedding in Jesus’ time, the bridesmaids would have waited with the bride at her house for the bridegroom to come and lead her to his home. But the coming of the kingdom doesn’t follow the ready-made script of an ordinary wedding. Hence, the delay.
As St. Paul and other 1st-century Christians eventually came to understand, the delay would turn out to be a lot longer than they had ever expected. Like the bridesmaids in the parable, it’s only natural for us to settle down, so to speak, for the long haul, making ourselves comfortable in the here and now. But sooner or later the call will come: “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” And when the call comes, then, like the five wise virgins, we must be ready. Each one of us individually must be ready.
In an age when taking responsibility for one’s life and one’s actions seems so counter-cultural, so increasingly out of fashion, the question comes up: why couldn’t the wise virgins share some of their oil? In an age when taking responsibility for one’s life and one’s actions seems increasingly out of fashion, the most jarring thing about this parable may be the fact that, when the kingdom comes, there will be no one else to pin the blame on if I have let my lamp go out. When the time comes, each one of us individually must be ready to meet the Lord with the lamp of I have made of my own life.
Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, November 6, 2011

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