The Gospel today presents a number of Practical Principles of Preparation. As always the Lord has a way of teaching us such practical things in a very memorable way. Most of us remember well the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Now it pertains to us to look with some care of some the principles it teaches us. Lets look at four of them. In the end we will find that the Lord turns the tables on us.
I. Procure your Provisions – The text says, The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
In looking at this text we see that humanity is divided between the wise the foolish. We generally live in times that like to de-emphasize distinctions. It is a true fact that at times we have emphasized things that did not matter, or were unfair to focus on. But there are distinctions that DO matter and this is one of them. To be wise is to be richly rooted in God and in what God offers: His love, his wisdom, his grace and mercy, his truth, His vision and priorities, His very life.
To lack these things is not merely a matter of unfortunate poverty or bad luck, for these things are offered richly and freely by God and are widely known and available to all.
Thus to lack these things renders one a fool. Many proceed through this life and consider themselves very smart. And they may be smart in science, or finances, or business, or sports. But being smart is not the same as being wise. One can be very smart, and still be a fool. One can climb the ladder of success. But if it is leaning up against the wrong wall, they climb only to ruin. The wise, whether smart or simple, know God and are recipients of his gifts. The foolish deny him or his gifts, whether explicitly through conscious resistance, or implicitly through lukewarmness and lip service.
In the this parable, the wise virgins bring extra oil. They have procured their provsions.
But what is this oil? The Fathers of the Church had many answers. Some said it was love, others wisdom, or holy deeds. But we need not limit it to any one thing. The oil is the the love of God, the Wisdom of God. It is God Himself. It is all God’s treasures of Scripture, the Sacraments, prayer, the Church, the liturgy; it is joy, mercy, forgiveness, peace and the gift of holiness. The wise virgins have stocked up on God’s abundant and free gifts. They have richly availed themselves of God’s goodness a plentiful graces.
The foolish virgins are not wholly lacking in God’s gifts, for no human being made in the likeness of God is. But they have not sought to endow themselves sufficiently to see the night of this life through. They are careless and lazy. Perhaps carrying extra oil is too much trouble, just as going to Mass, praying, or reading Scripture is too much trouble for “the foolish” today.
What of you? Are you wise or foolish? Put another way, are you procuring your provisions? Are you availing yourself of the oil of God’s good gifts? Or, do you have other “more important” things to attend to?
The First Principle of Proper Preparation is: Procure your Provisions.
II. Personally Prepare – The text says, The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.‘
At first glance the answer of the wise virgins surprises us. Shouldn’t they share? Isn’t this what we would expect Jesus to say?
But, the fact is, there are some things you can’t loan and there are some things you can’t borrow. You can’t borrow someone else’s relationship with God, you can’t borrow holiness, or mercy, or love, or wisdom. You can’t borrow someone else’s prayer life. You just have to have your own.
As a priest I get lots of requests, sometimes for money, perhaps to use the Church for a funeral etc. I often inquire, “Was the deceased a member here?” So often the answer is, “Well no, but his Grandmother was.” Or “His second cousin used to go here.” Now as for me, I’ll celebrate the funeral, no matter, but the frankly the answer is “No, he did not go here” and the fact that his Grandmother did or his second cousin has nothing to do with it. None of that will profit him before God and none of that adds even a drop of oil to his lamp. You can’t borrow you grandmother’s holiness. You have to have your own.
Hence we must personally prepare to meet God. We must come to know him and love him. We must personally be open to receiving the gifts he offers, be it prayer, scripture, the liturgy, sacraments, the moral life, a new mind and heart, and so forth.
What about us? Do we have our own oil, or are we just talking about what a great person granny was? An old gospel hymn says, Yes I know Jesus for myself. Do we? Another old Gospel hymn says, My mother taught me how to pray. So if I die and my soul be lost, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.
The Second Principle of of Proper Preparation is to Personally Prepare.
III. Persevere in Preparations – The Text says, At midnight, there was a cry, Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!…and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
Here too is an important reminder we must persevere in our walk to the end. The groom did not come till midnight and the foolish ones, though they had procured oil early on, could not hold out to the end.
I cannot tell you, how often people tell me, a priest, things like, “I used to be an altar boy…..I used to go to “your” Church…..I went to St Cyprian’s School….I’m old St Cyprian’s….our family goes all the way back….My Grandfather helped build the place!” Of course I am supposed to be impressed. But instead I ask, “And where are you today?” Usually they aren’t anywhere, and so I say something like, “You’re telling me you used to have your lamp trimmed and burning, but it sounds like you ran out of oil. Watch out, the Day is drawing nigh!”
But of course the point here is that only those who were ready with their lamps trimmed and burning WHEN THE GROOM ARRIVED, entered the wedding with him. Then the door was barred. We must be faithful unto the end. Jesus says, He who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13). Scripture also says, Call no man blessed till he die. For it is by his end that a man is known. (Sirach 11:28)
Persevere. I may be wonder that you read the whole Bible when you where in High School. But where are you today. And where will you be at midnight?
The Third Principle of Proper Preparation is to Persevere in Preparations.
IV. Procrastination is Perilous – The text says, While [the five foolish virgins] went off to buy [the oil], the bridegroom came…those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
In the end, our Wisdom goes with us or our foolishness catches us. The foolish virgins scrambled at the end to get what they needed. But it was too late. The door was barred.
One physical explanation for this detail may be found in the fact that houses of the ancient world were often rather small, but backed out onto a closed courtyard. Hence, when all the guests had arrived, the doors of these small houses were close and the furniture moved up against the walls and the door to make room as the celebration began. To move everything to open the door was problematic, and it was rude to ask for this.
It was just too late for them. Procrastination is perilous.
And two things beckon for our special attention.
First there are the words of the Lord, “I do not know you.” The Greek word here is οἶδα (oida) which bespeaks a kind of intellectual knowing. And so it may surprise us to hear the omniscient Lord say he does not know someone. Perhaps here we can understand the word as meaning he does not “recognize” them as one of the guests. They are not of the wedding party, not on the guest list. Or, to use another metaphor, they are not among the sheep of his flock. Later, in this same chapter of Matthew, Jesus will speak of dividing sheep from goats. Hence there is a judgment issued here: I do not recognize you as one of my flock, the door cannot be opened, it is too late.
But how did it get to be so late and what does it mean that the door is barred?
This leads us to the second point that demands our attention. It is said that the foolish virgins are knocking on the door, or at least calling out, asking entrance.
But this precisely backward. It is not we who knock, but the Lord who knocks. It is he who bids us open, and we who must answer. Jesus says, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). It is the Lord who calls, It was I who chose you, he says (Jn 15:16).
Hence the way to heaven is not through some door “up there,” it is through the door down here, that we must open, the door of our heart. And the Lord is knocking now. Procrastination is peril, it is foolishness. It is now, and every day, that we must answer the knock. The choice is ours. Yes, the door to heaven is opened from the inside of our hearts. It is we who ultimately determine our destiny. The Lord merely ratifies it at the judgment.
The Lord wants to know us, want to recognize us as his own, that much is clear. That is why he knocks, and knocks. Will you answer?
Be careful, the fourth principle of proper preparation to realize that procrastination is perilous. There comes a day when the door is forever closed. But the door is your heart. Answer! Open!
This song says, Somebody’s knocking at your door. Oh Sinner, why don’t you answer? Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door.