Few of us can claim to be entirely wise, even if others assume we are. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us can look back on situations when we were too trusting or too gullible. Perhaps we were taken in by "scammers," or perhaps we believed some false narrative, aired our opinions too loudly, shared a secret with the wrong person or made an unwise investment. Such folly may have cost us more than embarrassment, resulting in loss of employment, financial ruin, a broken heart... And then it's possible that there were others who also paid the price for our mistakes-- co-investors who lost their life's savings, loved ones who tried to warn us of some dire mistake, colleagues who were left to salvage a business deal or some missed opportunity...
But while lack of wisdom often has a negative fall-out, it doesn't mean that we are evil. In most cases, errors stem from naivete and inexperience, not from a hardened heart. According to scripture, the real fools are those who tell themselves, "There is no God," and who therefore believe they are above the Law, accountable to no one (Ps 14). For the psalmist, this is a form of madness:
"Are these evil-doers mad?
They eat up my people
like so much bread;
they never pray.
They should cringe in fear,
for God sits with the just.
You may mock the poor,
but the Lord keeps them safe."
To make a mistake is human; to deify oneself is the height of folly because it means that everything and everyone exists for the convenience of the self-styled demi-god. People become commodities to be used, controlled, pushed aside, excluded, or even demonized. Concern for what is right and just, respect for Truth, and a commitment to serving the common good have no place when ego-needs are insatiable. Instead, narcissistic rage consumes all reason and madness spreads, with viral intensity, infecting the sycophants, the flatterers, the fawners and flunkeys, the conspiracy theorists, the bullies, the hatemongers,, the power-seekers...
"If only a savior would come from Zion/ to restore the people's fortunes!" sings the psalmist, for on that day "Jacob would sing, and Israel rejoice."
Blessings and Much Singing!
"The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise carried flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was delayed for a long time,
they became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
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.'"
Wisdom and folly -- that is clearly the theme of this Sunday's Gospel. The Parable of the Ten Virgins continues the apocalyptic warnings of the previous chapter (Mt 24), highlighting the need to be awake, alert and prepared. Just as there are specific expectations around the role of bridesmaids in contemporary weddings, so, too, at the time of Jesus, a bride's attendants had a specific role: to wait on the bride, welcome the groom and then accompany the wedding procession to the home the groom had prepared for his beloved. Since festivities began after nightfall, the bridesmaids' lamps would help light the way for all the guests as they sang and danced through winding village streets. The bridesmaids, then, had an important function and their ability to fulfill requirements depended upon their oil supply.
Why then, were only five of the ten bridesmaids prepared? Why did only five carry extra oil, "just in case"? The other five, it seems, didn't appreciate the importance of their role; they were "lukewarm" in their commitment, most likely distracted by fatigue, or by boredom. Perhaps they skimped on the oil to save money, thinking they could get by with the little they had. Instead of being happy for the couple, perhaps they resented having to wait so long for the bridegroom to arrive. Perhaps they were more interested in being seen in their finery than in serving the bride and groom. Whatever the case, when they finally returned from purchasing more oil, the doors to the wedding feast were locked and the bridegroom refused to let them in.
In Jesus' parables, wedding feasts symbolize the Kingdom of Heaven and wearing the wrong garment or running out of oil are metaphors for missing the moment. If Jesus himself is the Bridegroom, then what does he expect of us? There are many who believe that it is enough to obey the commandments and
fulfill our religious and civic responsibilities. This, however, represents the bare minimum -- we have the lamps on hand, but neither wick, nor oil, nor flame. In other words, we are self-satisfied, complacent and self-absorbed, without any aspiration to become anything more than religious conformists. What is called for is nothing less than for us to be light-bearers who illumine the darkness, leading others into Hope, into Light and into Love. Instead of letting our flames grow dim, we need to pour on the oil to dispel the shadows of the night, and to reveal the seductions of evil. We are "the light-force," emissaries of the One Light, children of Light, whose great privilege is nothing less than to be the light of the world.