Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year A), 2017.
Five maidens were wise, and five were foolish. The five who were wise took flasks of oil with them as they waited for the bridegroom to open the door. The five who were foolish brought no oil with them. They were too busy finding other matters important than to tend to this preparation. Asking the wise maidens to give them some oil, they were refused. Scrambling then to find more oil, by the time they returned, the door was closed to them. And despite their pleas to enter, the bridegroom does not reconsider, but instead says, “Truly, I do not know you.” They are unrecognizable to him, for if they have not taken seriously the preparations for this most significant day, their presence will not add to the festivity but detract from it.
Brothers and sisters, Saint Matthew earlier in his Gospel has already given us three clues in His Sermon on the Mount to understanding our Lord’s meaning in this parable.
The first is the following: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” The wise are those who hear and act on Jesus’ words. The foolish are those who hear and ignore, delay, or even refuse to act. The wise maidens were obedient and did the unglamorous work involved in humble obedience. The foolish maidens concerned themselves, it would seem, with more glamorous or interesting matters.
Elsewhere in His Sermon, Jesus gives a second clue. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” So light is equated with good deeds that are visible to others and lead to praise of God. The five foolish women, then, have not prepared for this feast, and whatever light comes from their lamp will not reflect their obedience, preparation, and humility.
Their light will be a different light than that of the wise maidens, and in that sense it is unrecognizable to the bridegroom. He is looking for a light that shines from good deeds that reflects His glory, His love, His own humility and obedience—in other words, a light that reflects the love between Father and Son, that love being the Holy Spirit.
The final clue is bluntly stated by Jesus, “You will know them by their fruits.” The relationship between fruits, good works, and light is intimate. Jesus in His great power and wisdom sees through all appearances and knows when a person has truly prepared for the wedding feast, when a person has taken seriously His words and allowed those words to penetrate the heart, and therefore casting divine light on the person’s words and deeds.
And let us not dilute our Lord’s demands. He is looking for purity. He is looking for constancy. He is looking for humility. He is looking for the purity, constancy, and humility of daily prayer, daily preparation, daily dialogue with Him. He is looking for the unglamorous work of listening to Him and trying to do what He says. O God make speed to save us; O Lord make haste to help us. Amen.