Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wis 6:12-16; 1 Thes 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13
I used to think that Matthew got it wrong in the parable we hear this weekend. I thought, “Shouldn’t the wise virgins have shared their oil with the others?” Wouldn’t that have been the Christian thing to do?
After all, doesn’t Jesus tell us that we should share with those who are in need? If we have two cloaks, we should give one to the person who has none. We should share our food and drink with the hungry and the thirsty.
Some time ago, however, I realized that I was reading this parable in a very literal sense and not in the symbolic sense that parables are intended.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Mt 5:14). At our baptism, we receive a candle lit from the Paschal Candle with the words, “Receive the Light of Christ.” We are asked to keep the “flame of faith alive in our hearts.”
In the parable, the light from the oil lamps represents this light of faith, the Light of Christ. The oil, which for me is the focus of the parable, represents that which keeps the Light of Christ burning in our lives.
We keep the light of faith alive in our hearts and burning brightly through our participation in the life of the Church. Through prayer, participation in the sacraments and especially through our good works, the light shines brightly. If we truly accept God’s gifts of love and redemption, they elicit from us the same actions we see in Jesus.
The wise virgins had what they needed: lamps to guide the way and enough oil to let the lamps burn bright. If we are wise, we fill ourselves with what keeps the Light of Christ alive and burning bright. Taking care of God’s people keeps the Light of Christ burning in our lives.
At times the Light of Christ doesn’t shine as brightly as it could. Things get in the way. The trimming of an oil lamp involves getting rid of the burnt wick that hasn’t fallen off, thereby exposing the unburnt part so the lamp’s light is brighter. Identifying things that interfere with the Light of Christ and trimming them out of our lives enables the light to shine brightly.
Designating the virgins with extra oil as wise is a significant point for Jesus’ audience. Throughout Scripture, especially in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Wisdom, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), wisdom is identified with God — a quality of God or something that he shares with us.
According to our reading from Wisdom, if we take that wisdom of God to ourselves, that is, internalize it, we “experience the perfection of prudence” (15). Proverbs, chapters 8 and 9, clearly identifies God as being Wisdom. As Christians, we identify Jesus as that Wisdom come to us from God (1 Cor 1:24), and in a few weeks we will sing, “O come thou Wisdom from on high.”
In our bicentennial prayer we pray “may we shine like stars in the world.” As we approach the end of the Church year and our bicentennial year, it is good to ask ourselves two questions: Where has the Light of Christ shone brightly in our lives? What has gotten in the way of that light shining as brightly as possible?
Deacon Christopher Colville serves at Church of the Redeemer, Mechanicsville.