1 Corinthians 1:17-25
Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour
I habitually procrastinate. It is not something I am proud of, but there you have it. I often make New Year’s resolutions about this problem but never quite get around to working on it. This summer, for instance, I was going to make a scrapbook, clean out the linen closet and finally paint that bathroom door. All of these tasks remain incomplete. As I read today’s gospel, I am reminded of some of the more important commitments that I put aside-like reading scripture daily, praying the Rosary more often and finally getting to my parish’s adoration chapel for some reflection and meditation.
How is it that I have somehow lumped all of these things together in one list? I have umbrellas and snow boots, locks for my doors and a cell phone in case of emergencies. But yet, those promises that I have made to the Father don’t always make it to the top priority spot. Today’s reading reminds us of the devastating consequences of being unprepared for the coming of the Kingdom.
The parable in Matthew tells of the ten maidens waiting for the bridegroom so that a great wedding feast may begin. Our Lord tells us that "five of them were foolish and five were wise." The wise ones brought with them extra oil for their lamps, while the foolish did not. When the bridegroom was delayed, their torches had to burn for longer than anticipated. The unprepared maidens were left scrambling to find more oil in the middle of the night.
How many times has our Lord warned us in Holy Scripture that we must be ever vigilant and prepared because his coming will not be announced? It’s clear that we won’t have time to make amends for all our wrongs if we haven’t been living the life we should have all along. It certainly will not matter that a bathroom door went unpainted, but what about that time we were going to spend in prayer?
Many things strike me about this reading. For instance, all of the maidens are waiting together. There is no great divide between them. Our Lord does not call them stupid and smart or evil and good. This is like life, isn’t it? We don’t have signs on our head saying "I am saved." It’s not that five of these maidens didn’t want to go to the wedding, or didn’t care about the bridegroom. They are all there together hoping to join him at the feast. But not everyone who professes to be a Christian truly holds God in their hearts. They may put on the fancy dress and wait at the door with their lamp, but their fire will go out. They don’t have the reserves to keep the flame going.
Suddenly, when the bridegroom shows up at midnight, the division will be apparent. They shake off their slumber and run to meet him, but the foolish girls don’t have enough oil to keep their torches burning. "Give us some of your oil," they ask of the wise group. But just as we cannot borrow another’s faith, this oil cannot be shared. When they finally return from their search, the door to the wedding is locked shut. As they bang on the door to demand admittance, Our Lord says, "I do not know you." How chilling is this? Weren’t they just waiting with great anticipation for this man? I am sure they were all talking amongst themselves about how handsome he would be and how much revelry would be at the wedding. And now, because of just the slightest delay, they are unknown to him.
Perhaps what is so frightening about this is that our Lord is telling us that there will be a real time in the future when it will be too late. Our Lord is loving and forgiving and wants nothing more than for us to join him in his Kingdom. And we have every opportunity to make that choice. But there will come a time when we have waited too long. So leave the scrapbook, don’t worry if you only have one umbrella. Put Christ at the top of your "To Do" list.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.