November 10, 2002
"Stay Awake, For
You Know Not the Hour!"
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
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
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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