31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th November 2020

Keeping the flame lit

As we approach the end of the liturgical year the readings for these Sundays are emphasising the importance of being ready for the end times, in particular for the second coming of Christ. This latter event may not occupy the minds of many people in to-day’s culture but in times of a pandemic when we hear of the unexpected deaths of many people, young and old, as a result of covid-19, it is not unlikely than our own mortality comes to mind

In these days too we seem to be forever waiting, be it for the end of lockdown or for the time when we can meet loved ones or attend a wedding with no restrictions. In the Gospel for the 32nd Sunday of the year the parable of the ten bridesmaids is clearly about waiting and about being ready to go to the wedding feast.

The ten bridesmaids, five of whom we are told were wise and five foolish, have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom in order to accompany him to the wedding feast in his house.  Because he was delayed all ten had fallen asleep and they awoke to the call, ’The bridegroom is here, go out to meet him.’ With their lamps alight all ten are about to do so. This is when the five foolish bridesmaids who had brought no oil with them (unlike the five wise ones) realise their lamps are going out.  They ask the wise bridesmaids to give them some of their oil but they refuse in case they too might run short.  Then the five have to go off to buy some.  Meanwhile the groom arrives and only five are ready to go with him. They enter his house and the doors are shut.  Later the other five arrive and in spite of their pleas are refused entry as they hear the harsh words, ‘Truly I tell you I do not know you’.  If only this parable could have a different ending!  If only the wise could have shared their oil, or if only the bridegroom would have relented and let the latecomers in.  At the end of this parable the words of Jesus are clear: ‘Therefore, keep watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.’ We have heard similar words in other parables but in this one, which is unique to Matthew, there are particular elements which draw our attention.

The metaphor of light is found throughout the Scriptures and is central to this parable as the bridesmaids are to light up the way as they process with the groom to the wedding feast.  Right from the day of our baptism light is a very meaningful symbol for Christians.  The Risen Lord is symbolised in the lighting of the Paschal candle.  From this flame the light is passed to the baptised as the parents and godparents stand for her/him and make the baptismal promises.  This light of faith needs to be kept alive, to be nourished as the young Christian grows up.  Otherwise it can grow dim and go out.  Jesus says to us, ‘You are the light of the world’, and Paul in one of his letters to Timothy says ‘fan into flame the gift of God within you.’ In life there are certain things that others cannot do for us.  Each of us as adults is responsible for our own faith commitment.  This may explain why the wise bridesmaids could not share their oil.  We have been anointed with the oil of the Spirit who enables us to keep our inner light burning brightly.  This Sunday we are reminded to seek wisdom, care for this precious flame, keep the wick trimmed and stock up on oil… Let us be ready for the eternal banquet!

Sr Siobhán Ní Mhaoilmhichíl OP



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