There is no doubt about it: the early Christians fully expected Jesus to return in glory “soon and very soon.” But they became disappointed as the months and years went by, and still Jesus was a no-show.
Some began to wonder if Jesus would be coming back at all. And, if so, when? And how were they to conduct themselves “in the meantime?”
Matthew’s Gospel story about the ten virgins – five wise and five foolish – is his answer. Jesus, like the bridegroom, will indeed come. But He will come when we least expect Him. So don’t be foolish. Be wise and be prepared!
Christians have been waiting for Jesus’ second coming in glory for some 2,000 years now. And we still recite the Creed every Sunday and profess: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And His kingdom will have no end.” But, if the truth be told, we really don’t pay a lot of attention to what we are saying, do we?
The fact of the matter is that we, too, are still “in the meantime.” So the question for us is: until Jesus comes again in glory, how are we to live? In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Matthew offers us two pieces of advice: 1) live prepared for His coming and 2) be serious about being a disciple of Jesus.
First, live prepared – and not only for the coming of Jesus at our death and judgment, but also for His comings throughout our lives: the inspiration to help someone in need; the out-of-the-blue notion that we should pray more; the restless gnawing that asks, as we rush through life, “Is this all that there is?”; the sudden impulse to be less selfish, to become a better version of myself.
There are the more intense attention-getters too: the death of someone close to us, a serious illness, seeing the face of an aging person when we look in the mirror, the awesomeness of a white Christmas, the falling-asleep-in-your-arms of your first child or grandchild.
All of these are visits from Jesus too. If we stay awake and recognize these “in the meantime” times “when the groom arrives,” we will be prepared for whenever His final visit occurs. This is Matthew’s first lesson: live prepared for His coming.
The second lesson is: be serious about being a disciple of Jesus. The truly chilling words in the parable are: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Jesus does not know me? I am a baptized Catholic and a member of His Church. Why wouldn’t Jesus know me?
The clue comes in another Gospel passage where Jesus’ relatives want to see Him but can’t get near because of the crowd. So someone close-by says: “Excuse me, Jesus, but your mother and your relatives would like to see you.” And Jesus says to the crowd around Him: “Who are my mother and my relatives? Those who do the will of my heavenly Father are mother and brother and sister to Me.”
Living our faith, with the good works that follow, make us mother and brother and sister to Him.
You see this personal responsibility in the parable when the five foolish virgins – who brought no extra oil with them and their lamps are going out – ask the five wise virgins to share some of their oil with them. And the five wise ones reply, “No way. There may not be enough for us and for you. Go to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.”
They are wiser than appears. The oil stands for the gift of faith and lamp’s light is the good works that follow from our faith. You can’t borrow someone else’s faith. You can’t borrow someone else’s good works. You must respond to God’s call yourself – and be a serious disciple of Jesus.
So it comes down to this: we who live “in the meantime,” are to live like the five wise virgins who stayed awake and ready. They kept their oil supply full by their faith and the good works that follow are the lamp’s light. And when the groom came, the door to the wedding feast was wide-open to welcome them.
But the five foolish virgins were always terribly distracted as they went off in so many directions. “I’m so busy! I don’t have time!” was their constant complaint as they neglected daily opportunities to love God and their neighbors. They never slowed down enough to keep their lamps filled with the oil of faith and so the good works could not follow as the lamp’s light.
“I do not know you,” were the last words they heard after the door to the wedding feast had been locked and they were shut out.
The moral of this parable is: “Stay awake” – live prepared for His coming, and be serious about being a disciple of Jesus – “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
For this is what you and I will next profess in the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And His kingdom will have no end.”
We believe, Lord. We believe.