32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Ten Virgins

“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour…”

The story of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) highlights what can be a common experience for many of us:  we know something very important is about to happen but we don’t exactly know when. At Christ the King this is a common occurrence, e.g., will this bambino (or bambina) make a timely entrance, or an early one, or a late one?

My twin sister and I were born premature, which wasn’t the only surprise. Due to the primitive state of echo technology at the time—i.e., non-existent—it was not known that Mom was carrying twins. I was born first;  my sister kicked me out because she wanted her own womb. When my sister arrived 12 minutes later, it caused quite a stir. My maternal grandparents had bets on “boy or girl,” and when Dad called them to say that they could both collect, my grandmother almost fainted. But, in a certain sense, the birth itself was not a surprise; everyone knew that it was just a matter of time.

We know that some things are going to happen; we just don’t know exactly when. The ten virgins know that the Master will return and the wedding feast will begin at some point;  they just don’t know when. During a time when the most accurate timepieces were sundials, and it was night, things got even more interesting.

Ready or not …

But the point of the story is not just about the ambiguity of the timing. The primary point is about the state of readiness of those involved:  five were prepared and five were not.

In the Scriptures, Light is something that the Holy One of Israel does, whether it is the Light of Day One, which He commands into being, or the Light that shines in the darkness, the Light of the Incarnation itself. Oil is also a great image of His presence, especially the presence of the Holy Spirit, as when Samuel anoints David with oil to make him King of Israel, and from that moment on the Spirit rushed upon him. (1 Samuel 16:13)

The wise five had prepared, knowing that the timing of the Master’s return was ambiguous;  they had brought with them enough oil for the eventuality of a late arrival. The other five had not.

“Give me oil for my lamp…”

What does all this mean in the context of this story? The Master is coming and only in His light can we see His way and follow it, but His light is empowered by the Holy Spirit that we have been given. To maintain that gift of the Spirit requires a constant returning to the source, to receive more and more oil that our light would continue to shine. We must regularly return to the “oil merchants” to buy this for ourselves.

The nature of that oil is such that, in a certain sense, it cannot be shared, each one must acquire it for themselves. It’s not that the five wise virgins were just being stingy. It speaks to the reality that our relationship with the Lord Jesus must be actively pursued by each one of us. There’s a sense in which the ultimate grace of His presence must be acquired by each human soul. While there are ways we can facilitate that for each other, ultimately, each one of us must pursue the Lord Jesus for that individual union with Him that He calls us to.

Being ready now and at the hour…

The finality of the example in the story, of course, is a reference to the ultimate arrival of the Master in our lives, either at the moment of our death or when the Trumpet goes off. If we are not prepared to see Him at that moment, then there are eternal consequences. But it can also apply to other encounters with the Lord Jesus. How many divine appointments have I missed because I hadn’t been at the oil merchants lately to stock up on the oil of the Spirit? My light was shining so dimly that I could not see what He was doing and cooperate with it. That is always the risk.

That risk is only abated by our making sure we are spending adequate time with the King, sufficiently empowering our relationship with Him so that we are simply present to Him and all that He wants to do.  He has called us to be the Light of the World, but our light only shines with His power. Let us have the wisdom and perseverance we need to constantly pursue Him so that at any moment the King begins to move, we are prepared and ready for Him!—Fr. Ed