8 November 2020
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
A young woman asked her brother were waiting at an airport to meet her fiancé who was due to arrive at 10pm. The plane was delayed several times and eventually the brother got tired and went home, telling his sister he would be back in time to meet her fiancé and bring them home. But he fell asleep and when he woke up he found that the couple had arrived at the house. It was because the young woman loved her fiancé that she was prepared to wait no matter how long or at what inconvenience to herself.
In Jewish culture, the custom was that the bride would wait with her bridesmaids, normally at the city gate, for the bridegroom to come and then go to her house for the wedding feast. With no mobile phones etc. there was no way of knowing when the bridegroom would arrive. It would have been a great shame for the bride’s family if she was not ready when the bridegroom arrived no matter how late it was.
In the parable, Jesus tells us that five of the bridesmaids were foolish, as they took no oil with them should the bridegroom be late in arriving, and their lamps would go out as they waited. Five were wise and did take oil. The bridegroom was delayed and the foolish bridesmaids had to go to buy oil as their lamps had gone out. While they were away, the groom arrived, went into the wedding feast with the wise bridesmaids. The door was closed and the foolish ones came too late and were locked out.
The parable is telling us 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 stand for these two types of Christians: those who hear the word and keep it and those who hear it but do not keep it.
In this parable, Jesus 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 is: ‘in which group of 5 am I? With the wise or with the foolish bridesmaids? As we wait for Jesus what is the oil that nourishes our waiting for Jesus? As we age, we may tire of waiting and maybe 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 daily 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.
Our waiting for Jesus is nothing in comparison to his waiting 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, he will not force us. God never prevents me from going with him to the wedding feast when he comes. I choose to go or not to go, doing my own thing, not too interested in God or his call.
Jesus is reminding us that there are certain things that 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 forever 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.”
Edited from a homily of the late Fr Jim Kirstein, SMA
Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA