Fr Cuthbert Brennan OSB
Lord, lord open to us
And he answered ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you?’
Does this really have something to do with judgment and salvation? And the answer is yes, these words do. The foolish bridesmaids were not recognised when they came to the wedding banquet because even though they dressed the part and initially carried the right equipment, they indeed had never been bridesmaids at all. We need to begin to recognise how our church and we its members have sometimes been like those foolish bridesmaids. This morning we are invited to stay awake to the Lord, to our calling as Christians, awake to the way of life in Christ. Our response to His person and work determines our
standing on the final day.
So the parable this morning proposes unexpected and even uncomfortable truths.
A superficial reading of today’s parable could give the impression that God’s reign is binary;
That there are only wise and foolish
Saints and sinners
Christians and non-Christians
Glenstallions and those who want to be
One good, the other highly questionable.
We are wired for this problematic kind of thinking.
Mark Twain proposed; “There are basically two types of people: those who accomplish things and those who claim to have accomplished things.” Concluding: “The first group is less crowded”
Robert Benchley summarises: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”
Jesus is clearly in the second category, for he did not divide people into
redeemable and irredeemable, worthy and unworthy, lovable and despicable. Rather his ministry was like an extended parable that continuously scrambled traditional thinking, upended well established norms and redefined the reign of God. Such disruption is evident in this morning’s parable and it raises more questions than it answers.
Our initial instinct is to side with the wise bridesmaids who must have read up on emergency preparations for wedding feasts but the problem with being a cheerleader for the wise bridesmaids is that they appear to be greedy. To be wise, it would seem, is to refuse to come to the aid of another in need. The wise bridesmaids have enough oil but their vision is limited. If they were so wise why couldn’t the five of them combine their collective wisdom and find a solution. All ten could have walked through the door together. Imagine the celebration that could have been!
One of the central commodities in the parable is oil. Oil has been very much in the news these last years. It is a coveted and weaponised resource. The oil in this parable is not the unreplenishable oil from fossils or fracking or deep sea drilling but rather the oil of the foolish and wise came from fish oil, animal fat but especially from olives. From eminently replenishable animals and trees.
The wisdom of this replenishable oil is a sign of the inexhaustible Christ, the anointed One whose vision is a peaceable kingdom where wisdom is shared, resources support the common good and the lavish graces of an eternal God never run dry.
In baptism we are anointed not with oil extracted from miles down in the earth’s crust but from oil extracted from groves of olives. We are anointed into Christ to collaborate in building a holy kingdom of new wisdom, devoid of rivalry, greed and exclusion especially of the marginalised, rejected and lost.
In baptism we were infused with wisdom from the eternally anointed One, sealed with the oil of healing, the oil of acceptance, the oil of gladness. This is our baptismal birthright and mission and when we accept such an invitation there is simultaneously an expectation placed upon us concerning who we are and what we will do. Will we be open to receiving the gift of wisdom from the margins of our church and society just as Jesus who was wisdom personified, also received wisdom from lepers and the lame, from interactions with the adulterous and tax collectors.
Jesus’ final command to stay awake is not to be taken literally. All the
bridesmaids slept. We are called to be actively engaged in the present which shapes our future. There is no mistake. The parable is a description of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is coming and it does not just unify, and synthesise and include. It divides the goats from the sheep, the wise from the foolish. It comes with joy and a demand for conversion of life. And let us beware, lest we, running frantically behind hear the words “too late, too late, I do not know you”.