by Father Mike Stubbs
Several years ago, I led a group on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Part of our trip involved climbing up Mount Sinai. Because of the unbearably hot desert weather, our climb took place in the evening. That meant that we would descend from the mountain in total darkness.
To light our way, the guides provided us with flashlights. Unfortunately, the batteries were dead. That really complicated our descent from the mountain. However, some of us had cell phones which could light up, helping the group to see.
Two thousand years ago, torches would have corresponded to those flashlights. Oil to fuel the torches would have corresponded to the batteries that would have powered the flashlights.
Our predicament on Mount Sinai makes a nice parallel to the parable that we hear in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 25:1-13.
Ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive in the middle of the night. They have torches to light their way. Five of the bridesmaids have wisely brought along oil as fuel for the torches. The other five have neglected to provide for this need.
When the bridegroom arrives, the wise bridesmaids go in with him to the wedding feast, while the foolish bridesmaids are left out in the cold.
This cautionary tale warns us to be prepared for the coming of Christ, who corresponds to the bridegroom. Only then will we be allowed to join him in the wedding feast, which stands for heaven.
The parable concludes with the admonition: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The wording of this warning might strike us as somewhat strange, since the bridesmaids in the parable, whose example we are to imitate, fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom: “Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”
However, the word translated as “stay awake” can also be translated as “watch” or “be vigilant.” That would fit in more appropriately with the parable. Watchfulness is an essential part of being prepared.
The supply of oil that the wise bridesmaids have brought along might mean the good works that believers in Christ need to perform. This interpretation would reflect the words of Christ: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).
In the parable, the reluctance of the wise bridesmaids to share their oil with the foolish ones might suggest a lack of compassion.
However, they are only being practical. Had the wise bridesmaids complied with the request to share their oil, nobody would have had enough oil to last until the arrival of the bridegroom: “No, for there may not be enough for us and you.”
In matters of salvation, we cannot compensate for others’ lack of preparation. That is why the Gospel insists so strongly upon its importance.