November 12, 2017
The 32nd Sunday of the Year A
All of Jesus’ parables contain, in different ways, the proclamation of the paradoxical logic of God’s Kingdom. They do not explain this logic, as if it were something abstract to be learned by heart: it is not sufficient to study it in order to know it. But the parables give of it a glimpse, an intuition, so as to arouse an interest, a question, a research. One has to look for that logic in the images; it is hidden in the narrative where at least one element is strange: it is precisely there that we have to look for the requested logic.
At the end of today’s parable, that of the ten virgins (Matth 25, 1- 13), we find the strange element: Jesus invites the hearers and affirms: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (v. 13). The strange thing is that the parable speaks of ten virgins who, while waiting for the bridegroom, become all drowsy and fall asleep (v. 5). The parable presents this fact as if it were normal, without any problem. Jesus does not criticize their falling asleep. Yet, at the end of the parable, he does invite people to stay awake!
What does he mean by this exhortation? How can one link this vigilance with the reserve of oil or its lack?
The bridegroom “is long delayed”, and all the virgins fall asleep equally.
All equally get up at the cry of the bridegroom’s arrival, in the heart of the night (v.6). At this stage, it is obvious that only the virgins who foresaw the bridegroom’s delay – not the others- had enough reserve of oil.
The problem is actually that the one who does not have oil in her lamp and gets up during the night, does remain in the dark, without light. And it is the same thing to be asleep or awake: all dwell in the dark, without recognizing the bridegroom who arrives, without seeing him or being seen by him.
If the Song of Songs states that to be awake characterizes love, even when the body rests (“I am sleeping, but my heart keeps vigil”, Song 5, 2), for the virgins it is the opposite: they vigil but their heart sleeps, in the dark.
Thus, it happens that the foolish virgins are absent when the bridegroom arrives, as they have gone to provide themselves with oil, at the last moment. The bride is here and they are elsewhere. They had gone to get something that they had not brought with them.
The oil here is the capacity of living, of being present in life; it is the habit of recognizing the Lord in the reality of life. One has to be present when the Lord passes, and to believe that the Lord is passing where you are now. This is faith.
If you have done this in your life, if you have provided your lamp with oil, then you will know to do the same at the final encounter, whose day and hour you do not know (Matth 25, 13): the oil will not lack.
It is not requested to accumulate good works. These do not open the door to the Kingdom. It is not requested either to stay all the time awake and active: the parable takes into account every weakness, and the normal possibility, for all, to get tired and to fall asleep.
Oil is whatever in life has nurtured light, wisdom, knowledge of the Lord, as well as a relationship with him. This is why, paradoxically, the more you use that oil, the more you have of it.
In the parables of the preceding Sundays, we have seen that this knowledge of the Lord is not self-evident: it requires a continuous conversion, an opening of the heart to the logic of the gratuity of salvation, a constant awareness of needing continuous mercy.
Eventually, the foolish virgins seem to have at last got what was lacking. But this is not sufficient to enter, because this running, at the last moment, to get oil, betrays an ancient logic, that of “the old man”, as old as that of the guest to the wedding who was not wearing the decent nuptial robe (Matth 22, 11). He too, like the foolish virgins, is left outside, not because he was less good than the others, but because the invitation to the wedding had not transformed his life: one does not enter without the conversion of the heart.
This applies also to the virgins: the Lord arrives at last. With Him enter those who know the new logic of the Kingdom because they used to recognize that logic in the folds of everyday life.