32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Stay alert”, Jesus is saying. “You have no idea when the bridegroom might arrive”. If you stayed alert during the first reading, you might remember the phrase, “whoever for her sake” – wisdom’s sake – “keeps vigil.” And if you were still alert during the second reading, you might have heard St Paul talking “about those who have fallen asleep” – meaning those already dead and buried.
Where else do we hear about falling asleep? In the Gospel this morning: “they all became drowsy and fell asleep”. Coming after the second reading, here too the falling asleep represents death, followed by waking up and entering the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, “the door was locked” against the virgins who took lamps, but no extra oil. They knocked on the door, but it was useless. The hour for the wedding feast had come, and they weren’t ready. The punch line admits of no exceptions: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour”.
Since Jesus was telling his disciples this parable, he’s saying that you and I don’t know when Christ (who is the bridegroom) will come to lead us into his kingdom. Therefore we’re the ones who need to keep our lamps lit and not be caught by surprise when Christ comes to us. This “lamp” is the light of Christ which each of us carries with us since our baptism, which was often called “enlightenment” in the early Church.
So how do we keep our lamp trimmed? Bearing in mind that St Paul calls Christ “the Wisdom of God”, the answer is in the first reading. “Resplendent and unfading is” Christ, the wisdom of God. He “is readily perceived by those who love him, and found by those who seek him”. Christ is the light in our baptismal lamp, and he grows more resplendent as we receive his wisdom. Our task in this life is to keep our lamp lit, to keep responding to the grace of our baptism, so as to be ready “to die in Jesus” and go into the wedding feast with him.
To die in Jesus, it’s not enough to be able to present the lamp of baptism. All ten virgins fell asleep, and when they woke up, all ten had a lamp to present. But Christ can only be the light in the lamp if he finds some oil to set aflame. The oil represents our personal response to the grace of baptism, the part that we play in our own salvation, and no one else can make our response for us; that is why the five wise ones were unable to lend their oil to the five foolish: no one can transfer their personal response to anyone else.
The time to accumulate oil is during the daytime, during this life. The time will come when both the wise and the foolish will fall asleep in death, but when Christ the bridegroom comes to wake us up, it will be midnight, and all the stores where we could have bought oil will be closed. The only oil we will be able to take with us is the oil we built up, the grace we responded to, in the daytime of this life.
At this Eucharist, let our soul be filled as with a banquet, and our mouth praise the Bridegroom with joy. May he graciously show himself to us as we go to communion, coming to meet us under the appearances of bread and wine. May he find oil in our lamp and a heart that burns within us as he speaks, a heart that keeps vigil for him even when we fall asleep at the end of our lives. Then we shall be ready to go in with him to the wedding hall, and so we shall stay with the Lord forever.