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November 10, 2002

"Stay Awake, For You Know Not the Hour!"

(Matthew 25:1-13)

I was traveling and speaking to audiences in Milwaukee and Santa Clara this past week and bragging about you everywhere, telling everyone how great you all are, and now they all want to move here!

This parable is one of the most difficult, complicated parables of all, but I think we could try to look at it and see what the Gospel is trying to tell us.

Jesus says the kingdom of God is like ten virgins--five are foolish and five are wise. The foolish ones bring their lamps but they do not have any extra oil, and when the bridegroom is late in arriving, they fall asleep and their lamps run out of oil.

The wise ones, on the other hand, are prepared and have brought extra oil with their lamps, so their lamps do not run out. At midnight, when they are suddenly told that the bridegroom is on his way, they all wake up and the foolish ones ask the wise ones for extra oil for their lamps, but the wise ones say there isn't enough oil for both of them.

So the foolish ones leave to go and buy more oil, and just then, the bridegroom arrives and takes those who are ready, the wise ones, into the wedding banquet, and then locks the door behind him. The foolish ones return, and beg to come in, but the bridegroom says, "I do not know you." And the moral of the story is: "Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

Well, what is that all about?

Apparently, in those days, the bride and groom were hosts at the huge wedding party in a big hall, and just prior to the start of the wedding feast, young women waited for the groom, then he entered and locked the door and everyone celebrated for days, and Jesus says, that's what the kingdom of God is like!

So the Gospel is telling us to wake up, to get ready for the party, to be prepared, because one day when we least expect it, we are going to die, and meet Jesus and God will ask us about our lives, and we need to have a good answer, to have a lifetime of faithful, loving service to offer God, to have plenty of oil for our lamps.

The foolish ones think they are wise. They think they are ready but they are not prepared. The wise ones, on the other hand, know the bridegroom, spend their lives getting ready to spend eternity with him, do good works for him, and do what he says. They are ready when he appears. The Gospel tells us not to be foolish and kid ourselves thinking that we are ready to meet Jesus. Get ready now for eternity.

Part of the mystery of life is that, even though we have our family and friends and the saints, in the end, we are all going to die and death is a very private intimate experience, the ultimate personal experience, and every one of us is going to go through it on our own, and we won't be able to rely on anyone else.

So the Gospel is saying, think about your death, think about appearing before God, and don't wait until the last minute when it's too late. Start preparing now. Do what you need to do so you have enough oil for your lamps. Reconcile with everyone; forgive everyone; let go of your petty concerns and the ways of the world; love everyone; be compassionate to everyone, and spend the rest your life seeking God and God's kingdom.

I think this parable is about personal responsibility, that what we do in our lives has eternal consequences. Now if we've spent our lives seeking God and trying to know Jesus, when we finally meet God and Jesus, we're going to be ready and we're going to be really excited and happy.

But if we think we're ready, like the foolish ones, and say, we'll I'm all set, I go to mass on Sundays, I do what I'm told, but really we don't love everyone or follow the Gospel, then we're fooling ourselves. When we die, we won't be able to turn to someone else and say, "Lend me some of your lifetime, some of the good things you did, some of your oil from your lamp."

We're going to have to stand on our own two feet before God. And God will ask us about our lives, and how loving and faithful we were.

And if we think we can fall back on plan B, and throw ourselves on the mercy of God, then we need to get ready for that too, because God will say, "Oh, you want me to be merciful to you; how merciful were you to others?" So we need to get ready by being really merciful to everyone else on the planet from now on.

So I hear the Gospel asking us to take responsibility for our lives and consciously choose the values of Jesus and try to get to know Jesus here and now, and not to wait for heaven. We don't want him to say to us, "Sorry, I do not know you."

We want him to greet us like old long lost friends, which means we have to try to get to know him now. We have to let him into our lives, to share our hearts with him, to take time each day in quiet prayer with him, to develop a relationship with him, and to try to be part of his life.

And the Gospel teaches that if we want to know Jesus and to be known by him, we can! We can go deeper into the spiritual life! But we have to work at it, we have to be dedicated to building a good, intimate relationship with Jesus, and that takes time, like in any relationship or friendship.

So really this is a great Gospel because it's saying that our lives are infinitely valuable, our lives are precious in the eyes of God, our experience is really important to God, what we do matters to God, that Jesus wants to know us, that he wants to take us into the wedding banquet party of peace and love.

So we pray today for the grace of wisdom, that we might be ready for Jesus, that we might do what he wants and live as he lived and love as he loved, that we might spend the rest of our lives preparing for eternity in his kingdom. And as we pray to be prepared for that great meeting with Jesus in heaven, we prepare right now to welcome Jesus here in our midst as he comes to us as our food and drink, and so we welcome Jesus and his kingdom of peace and love with grateful hearts.

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