THE WISE AND THE OIL-LESS VIRGINS Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

The wise and foolish virgins
There was a young man who was at the end of his training under a Life-coach and soon he would graduate to be a teacher himself. Like all good students, he needed to challenge his teacher and to develop his own way of thinking. He caught a small bird, placed it on his palms covered and went to see his teacher and asked:
“Teacher, I have a bird in here is it alive or dead?”
His plan was the following: if his teacher said ‘dead’, he would open his hand and the bird would fly away. If the answer was ‘alive’, he would crush the bird between his palms; that way the teacher would be wrong whichever answer he gave.
‘Teacher, is the bird alive or dead?’ he asked again.
Looking at the boy closely the teacher replied :”My dear student, that depends on you!” The student was shocked at the answer which disorganized his plan to challenge his teacher’s wisdom. The boy was speechless for a while and later he said: “master you are really a man of wisdom!”
What actually is wisdom? If we are truthful to ourselves we will discover that wisdom is actually very difficult to define. The difficulty lies in the fact that it is directly linked to God and we all know that we cannot completely define God. What we can actually do at most is to describe wisdom or more creatively to personify it like we can see in the First Reading (Wisdom 6:12-16) where it is addressed as a woman who is ready to make herself available to anyone who earnestly go in search of her.
An attempt at describing wisdom sees it as the awareness, recognition and acceptance of God’s will at all times. It means making choices that will benefit us not just at the moment but eternally hereafter. It has to do with our option for God. It involves ultimately our DECISION to undertake or not to undertake a given line of action which places God first. Wisdom is not mere intelligence; it is beyond that. Wisdom is not brilliance; it is beyond that. It involves deep clarity of judgement that moves us to speak and act only after listening to God.
The Gospel today (Matt. 25:1-13) unveils one of those dramatic parables of our Lord Jesus Christ. The parable revolves around a wedding banquet, ten virgins and their respective lamps. The wedding ceremony is an unusual one going by what was obtainable at the moment. This is because the bridegroom was coming late from an unknown destination. The virgins who are also bridesmaid were waiting for the bridegroom but not the bride who was also not mentioned. Bridesmaids are known to carry flowers but here they had lamps. The unusual nature of the wedding is actually the strength of the message which we will see later.
Let us at this point look at the virgins or if you like the bridesmaids. They were TEN in number. The number TEN is very significant in the bible. It signifies perfection or completion of divine order. We have ten fingers and ten toes, God gave us ten commandments (Ex.34:28). Daniel was ten times better than the magicians in realm (Dan.1:20), Tithes were to be one-tenth (Deut 14:22), Our Lord Jesus Christ cured ten lepers and made them whole (Lk.17:12). The Lord’s prayer has ten parts (Matt.6:9-13).
Apart from the fact that they were complete in biblical numerology, they were virgins. This is an indication of purity. Hence from the moral standpont they were spotless. But as we can see further in the story, being a virgin is not enough because one can also be a foolish and oil-less virgin. Furthermore they were all invited for the wedding feast and they all awaited the coming of the bridegroom and all slept in the meantime and were all awoken when the bridegroom finally came.
It will be very expedient to examine the lamps they had. Ordinarily a lamp would have a small oil tank or container at the base and a wick is suspended from the top to the base. However the lamp being talked about in this parable from the original Greek translation is “lampa” which is equivalent to a torch. Now a torch as used then consists of a long pole having rags or wicks knotted together at the top of the pole. To burn and give illumination there will be need to feed it with oil every fifteen to twenty minutes otherwise it will die off. This was the type of light those who came to arrest Jesus at the garden came with (John 18:3).
An attentive reading of the bible shows us that there is always a contrast within a lot. For instance between Cain and Abel there is the good and the bad, Among the twelve spies to the land of Canaan (Numbers 13) ten had bad news while two (Joshua and Caleb) had good news. Among the ten lepers only one came back to give thanks the other nine went away (Luke 17:17). Among the twelve there a betrayer. Today we have ten virgins; five were wise and five were foolish. The only thing that made five wise and the other five foolish was: DECISION. The wise ones DECIDED to take flasks of oil while the others became foolish because they DECIDED not to take flasks of oil. Wisdom consists so much in DECISION. The decision to follow good counsel, the decision to listen to God, the decision to make choices that would be beneficial not just for the moment but eternally.
The virgins may have actually waited for a considerable length of time before the bridegroom came. They woke up and lighted up their lamps only for the oil-less virgins to discover that their lamps were going off because they did not come with oil not that they ran out of oil. They relied on charity from their mates but they were unable to get that because at that point in time sharing would be a kind of disaster for all of them. So they were advised to go to the dealers and get some oil. By the time they could come back the door was shut and they called out to the bridegroom whom they addressed as Lord to open the door for them but the answer was most disheartening “I do not know you!”
Evidently, our Lord Jesus Christ used the parable to compare what the kingdom of heaven is like. We are very conversant with the statement “many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). We can see this statement playing out very well in this parable. They were all virgins; having the same moral excellence. They were called and they answered. However five of them thought about the future and made the DECISION to cater for both now and after. The other five were only concerned about the present and DECIDED not to cater for the future. Perhaps they PRESUMED that the bridegroom would come early, perhaps they PRESUMED that even if he comes later their mates would assist them with some oil to keep their lamps burning after all they all came for the same ceremony. There is a limit to human charity. Those who believe that having someone in heaven would make them not go to hell are gravely wrong in their belief.
To apply this parable to our lives is the most pertinent thing to do today. The ten virgins represent all of us who are baptized and have been called by God as candidates for the eternal banquet in heaven. We all are also waiting for the Lord to come so that we can follow him into the place he has prepared for us (John 14:2). But this time of waiting requires us to provide for the journey. The oil in this context is much more than the ordinary lamp oil. Here it stands for faith, hope and love and the greatest among them is love (1 Cor.13:13).
With reference to the parable we discover that all the ten virgins had lamps. This is the same way there are many Christians with bibles in their hands. Five of the virgins had no oil in the same way that we have various Christians whose lives are spiritually empty. The nomenclature christian is not enough to admit us into the kingdom of God just as being a virgin with lamp was not a guarantee for the foolish ones to enter into the wedding banquet. If we are very attentive we will discover the following lessons today:
Being a Christian is not enough to go to heaven. Activate your Christian life with the oil of faith, hope and love.
Be prepared especially for the future.
Do not live in presumption you may end up in “had I known!”
Wisdom is all about the decision you make. Always make the right decision and God will support you for the right choices.
There is always a day or time of reckoning. Wisdom consists in making plans for that time.
Do have a wonderful Sunday and a great week ahead.
Fr. Bonnie

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