Yesterday, the Gospel reading was the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). That story always made me fearful and still does make me uneasy.
You may recall the story. Ten virgins – five wise and five foolish – were waiting to greet the bridegroom. We’re not told why but the bridegroom is delayed, in fact, “long delayed.” Consequently, the oil in the lamps was running out. Five virgins brought extra oil in flasks; five did not. And you know, or can guess, the rest of the story.
I get that the parable is about staying awake and being ready, and that we do not know the exact moment when we will be invited to the heavenly feast. So, what makes me so uneasy? First, the women were young, or at least innocent (virgins); second, the unprepared young women were described as merely “foolish”, not evil, not arrogant, not mean-spirited; and third, the prepared women may have been wise, but they were unwilling to share.
Despite my best attempts to be wise and prepared, I have moments of “foolishness.” I’ve been afraid of getting caught in one of those moments. What does that say about a God of compassion who is waiting to catch me up in such a moment?
I think the answer may be in yesterday’s first reading (Wisdom 6:12-16). “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” (v.12) and “… whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care, because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her.” (v. 15-16)
It’s about a lifetime of seeking wisdom, not being wise in one moment or situation. Being ready is the consequence of seeking wisdom and growing in faith. The “wise” women are those who cherish wisdom and faith. They are not necessarily young or even innocent, but walking on a journey of faith, seeking wisdom. The “foolish” women are not just silly young girls who didn’t think through the situation. They did not seek out wisdom (extra oil in their flasks). Their unpreparedness was a lifelong habit, not a momentary lapse. There may be a kind of arrogance in their behavior.
As for the five who would not share their oil, it may be that they could not, not that they were unwilling to do so. If the oil is wisdom, how could they share what takes a lifetime to find with those who are not prepared or are unwilling to receive it?