Wisdom 6:12-16; I Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13
When Bishop Philip Brooks, author of “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” was seriously ill, he requested that none of his friends come to see him. But when an acquaintance of his named Robert Ingersoll, the famous anti-Christian propagandist, came to see him, Brooks allowed him to enter his room. Ingersoll said, “I appreciate this very much, especially when you aren’t letting any of your close friends see you.” Bishop Brooks responded, “Oh, I’m confident of seeing them in the next world, but this may be my last chance to see you.”
Today’s Gospel passage is situated in the context of Matthew’s discourse in chapters 25 and 26 on the end times and the second coming of Christ. After speaking of the destruction of the temple (Mt 24:1-3) and the end of the age (Mt 24:4-51), the Evangelist takes up the parable of the wise and the foolish bridesmaids, which Jesus used to illustrate teachings about the coming of the Kingdom.
This parable has both a local and a universal meaning. The local meaning is that the foolish virgins represent the “Chosen People of God” who were waiting for the Messiah, but were shut out from the messianic banquet because they were unprepared. The universal meaning is that the five foolish virgins represent those who fail to prepare for the end of their lives. What matters is not the occasional or the last-minute burst of spiritual fervor but habitual attention to responsibilities before God.
At the final judgment, there will be no depending upon the resources of others, no begging or borrowing of grace. The parable implies that we should attend to duties of the present moment, preparing now rather than waiting until it is too late.
There’s an unexpected word in today’s gospel. But it is a word of power. It is also a word of the Kingdom. That word is “NO”. When all the bridesmaids get up and begin to trim their lamps, the foolish say to the wise, “give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out”. The wise respond, “NO”.
Now that’s rather shocking. Because we know Jesus wants us share what we have… Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.Wouldn’t you expect that the wise bridesmaids would be a bit more generous, sharing what they have with those in need? How do they get away with saying “no”?
What are we to make of this response? The refusal of the wise virgins to share is not telling us that we should dismiss the command to love our neighbor. But it is reminding us that love is not always giving our neighbor what he or she asks of us. If our neighbor is irresponsible or manipulative or destructive, we have every right to refuse the request and to protect ourselves. If we are dealing with someone who is abusive—verbally, mentally or physically—if we are dealing with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, we are not required to allow that destructive behavior to continue, even if the person asks us to. We have every right to say, “Unless you are willing to change, this relationship is coming to an end.” When we have to deal with someone who has lied to us and hurt us time and time again and expects us to cover for their irresponsibility, we do not need to feed their dysfunction. What would Jesus do in that circumstance? In that circumstance, Jesus would say, “We are not going to play this game any longer. I cannot give you what you want.”
The example of the wise virgins in today’s gospel is an important example to consider seriously. Yes, we are called to love our neighbor. But there are times when that love needs to be tough. At times we need to be strong enough to say to our neighbor, “What you are asking of me is foolish and destructive and I will not give it to you. I love you but I will not help you. You are on your own.”
The parable warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute: a) a good relationship with God, b) good character, c) merits from good deeds of sharing and forgiving love and humble service done to others. 2) The parable also warns us of certain elements in Christian life that cannot be borrowed: a) relationship with God, b) ideal character, c) Faith.