Church community helps prevent us becoming self-centered … and teaches us how to make the good oil for joy
At the youth sharing this week, the first question I was asked was: “why did Jesus use virgins in the story?” Hmm, I was caught without an answer! Why didn’t he just say bridesmaids?
First of all, in the culture of that time, virginity was something highly respected. It represented purity and a disciplined life of waiting for the right time. The Wisdom of self-control.
Perhaps Jesus was challenging those people who considered themselves faithful followers, who obey the commands of God and the religious laws of their day: it’s not enough to simply be a good Christian by going to church and saying your prayers each day.
The obvious message in the Gospel is to be prepared! To take time to plan ahead and organise what we need ahead of time to meet the needs of where we are going.
At first glance, you might complain that Jesus is encouraging a lack of charity by those with oil: why didn’t they share with those who didn’t? Perhaps St Paul would repeat: those who don’t work, should not eat.
Here, we see a tougher side of Jesus. When we think of our parents, we often see a combination of gentle love and tough love. Both are needed to bring about transformation!
The First Reading shares with us the power of Wisdom = God in action in our daily lives. But, how to find Wisdom? A smart man knows what to say. A wise man knows when to say it.
How did the wise person learn when to say it? By learning over time from their mistakes. That’s why older people are usually wiser than younger people: they’ve make more mistakes! Parents are often tougher on their first child than on the rest = experience and wisdom.
As we know, you cannot win the lottery unless you have a ticket!
“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree an I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” – John F. Kennedy
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Warren Buffett
“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” – Thomas Edison
The bridegroom symbolises Christ, but in a real sense it symbolises opportunities for joy are coming. But will we be ready to take advantage of them? In Kenya, people prefer getting on a bus that’s almost full and ready to go, rather than an empty bus that will take time to fill up.
Part of Wisdom is efficiency: don’t waste time being idle!! Be ACTIVE: trying new things; being early; being kind; being interested in things around you. Going to church, alone, will not save us! Like the bridesmaids in the story: we will fall asleep and become bored.
People often complain that church is boring! But, did they go to Mass to contribute and participate? Or did they come to receive? Think of a party: if we go, eat/ drink but never talk, we get bored! A party becomes fun and rewarding when we are talkers, listeners and laughing!
Now, Jesus is telling us this parable about being prepared not so we get into Heaven after death, but that we can discover and enter Heaven here on earth every day.
It is advisable for young people to consider that whatever they do, people are watching. Some of them are future employers. When we do get a job, don’t take it for granted: it’s a gift.
There will always be crises in our lives. What is the oil we need to keep our job? How do we prepare the oil so we are ready to cope with a crisis? Start work a little early, have initiative instead of waiting for the boss to always tell you what to do next. Stay a bit longer than required to finish the task given. This is the oil that creates opportunities.
These actions prepare us for a crisis so we can enter Heaven: eg. need a day off for a funeral, but have no leave left. Child falls sick and need to leave early or come to work late. The employee who has created oil in advance of the crises to come, will be happy.
The foolish people in the Gospel knew the lamps required oil to operate, and they knew the lamp would only last for a short time without extra oil. They had knowledge, but lacked Wisdom = lazy! “By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Think of your friends: we all have one or more, I’m sure. But not all of them are equal. Which friend do you trust the most? Why? How did that trust build up? The friend you trust, the most, is the one you spend time with: that time = oil.
In the same way, we need to create oil with God, so we can recognise God’s Wisdom in our lives. Religion helps us create frameworks in order to build a friendship with God. The Church community helps to prevent us from becoming self-centred and empty of oil. It helps us see the best way to create new oil each day, ready for the bridegroom = opportunities for joy!
By Gerard Conlan, OMI