October 17, 2021 The Divine Liturgy in the Maronite Rite at Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, FL
Philippians 2, 12-18 + Matthew 25, 1-13
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
A few years ago, I was fling to Houston for a meeting. On the return, I witnessed something that made me very sad. A woman with three young girls I assumed to be her daughters arrived at the gate just after everyone had boarded a flight going to Denver. There were some anxious looks down the concourse, and a frantic conversation with the gate agent. Clearly to me, someone was missing. The agent paged a man’s name, and kept motioning for the woman and the children to board the plane. They refused. I walked over to them and said: “What does he look like? I’ll go and have a look.” She raised her hand to indicate his height, and said: “Curly hair.” I made a quit trip down the concourse, checked the restroom, the restaurants, and the shops. No curly hair. When I returned, the door was closed, the plane had pushed back, and the woman and three girls were sitting together looking very unhappy. Moments later, the man with curly hair sauntered up looking amazed that the plane was gone. You can imagine what the conversation might have been like. I stayed where I was.
This is a story played out over and over again in human lives. We all know people who are always late for everything. There is usually an excuse and someone else to blame. Like the five in the parable, they blame their friends for not sharing or the shop owners for not be open in the middle of the night! There is always an excuse with the expectation that they could just slide on in with the help of others. This story also speaks to those who are wise describing what wisdom looks like, and these are the ones Jesus is really speaking too. This parable is about wisdom, and it is a theme that will be presented again next Sunday as well. This concern seems to occupy the mind of Jesus as his own life comes near its close. It is the Bible’s assumption that our death will catch us in the way we normally live either in a prepared state or a postponed state. There are some who rely on last-minute preparations like five of the virgins who had taken no extra oil.
I am not a great believer in last-minute preparations. I am working on this homily in September. I have wisely learned that something could come up on October 14th or 15th that keeps me from preparation. So, get it ready early. After fifty years as a priest, I am not a great believer in death-bed conversions either. I do not rule them out, but believe me, they are an infrequent grace. Now, 40,000 people died in auto deaths last year in this country, and 610,000 of heart attacks, and 140,000 of strokes. Just those figures alone ought to give us reason to question the wisdom of putting off anything that might strengthen and enrich our friendship with God, our relationship with his Church, and our care of God’s children sometimes entrusted to our care. Making excuses or blaming others will change nothing when it is finally just too late. Pretending that God’s mercy will always reopen the door when it has been closed goes contrary to what Jesus has said not only with this parable but many times before. Those who cry “Lord, Lord” will get no hearing because this is the time for action not later. It is possible to be “too late.” This is the time to prepare. This is the time given for us to prepare.
For those of us here, this is our graced future. We are the ones who carry the light and wait for the Lord. We take hope and courage from these verses, confident that all we do in service, in prayer, in sacrifice, and praise will lead us into the banquet we anticipate around this altar. We can’t do much for those who are not wise enough to prepare. We might go wandering around the airport concourse looking and hoping, but sometimes it doesn’t work. Yet we can pray for them and by the witness of our good lives, we might signal to them that the groom is coming. May we live each day worthily in constant expectation of Christ’s return. This is real wisdom.