Readings: Hosea 2:16b, 17b, 21-22; Ps 44; Matthew 25:1-13
The Gospel reading is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew. It is one of three parables from near the end of Jesus’ public life in a section which deals mainly with the Second Coming of Christ and what is known as the General Judgement. The main theme of the three parables is the importance of being ready to meet Christ at the end of our lives.
The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (or the Ten Virgins) speaks of ten women who go out to meet the bridegroom as he comes for the wedding ceremony. In our society, it is the groom who waits for the bride but here it is the other way round. And as brides have the reputation for unpunctuality, here it is the man who causes the delay.
Each of the bridesmaids was carrying an oil lamp to greet the groom when he arrived. We are told that five of them were ‘wise’ and five were ‘foolish’. The foolish ones neglected to take extra oil with them but the wise had brought flasks of oil in case of running short.
The bridegroom was long delayed and the girls became drowsy and even fell asleep. Then, at midnight, the cry went up: “Come out to greet the bridegroom!” By now, the lamps had all gone out and the foolish ones asked the wise to give them some oil for their lamps. The wise ones refused, saying that they did not have enough for all of them. They told the foolish girls to go and buy some for themselves.
While they were away, the bridegroom arrived and “those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him”. Then the door was locked. When the foolish girls came back, they asked for the door to be opened: “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” They then hear what are perhaps the most terrible words in the gospels: “I do not know you.”
The message of the parable is clear. It is an image of our lives. Our life is a journey to our final goal – to be fully united with our Creator and Lord. But on the way we need to prepare ourselves, we need to be ready. Jesus had said earlier in Matthew’s gospel that we are to be the light of the world. But there is a danger that our light will go out. What is the oil we need to keep our light
shining? It is clearly by maintaining a close relationship with Christ through a life of prayer and living our lives in a constantly loving and caring relationship with those around us, but especially with those in greatest need, whatever that need may be. As long as we live in this way, there will be oil to keep our light shining. And we will know Jesus because we will recognise, love and serve him in our brothers and sisters. And, at the end, he too will know us. It will be a meeting of old friends.
But if we live our lives in self-seeking ways, Jesus will not be part of it and at the end he will not know us. Edith Stein in the earlier part of her life led a life where God had little or no part. But, after her conversion and discovery of Christ, then she was indeed a “wise virgin” in living faithfully her Carmelite vocation. And, when the final trial came, she was ready to go in and meet her Lord, to whom she was already well known. Let us learn some of her wisdom.
The First Reading consists of verses from the prophet Hosea. This book uses the prophet’s own unfortunate marriage, where his wife Gomer was unfaithful to him, as an image of the relationship of the faithless Israel with Yahweh. And, just as Hoseah felt he could not desert his wife because of her adultery, so Yahweh cannot abandon Israel. In today’s reading, Yahweh speaks of his loving relationship with Israel. “I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart… She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt.” Here the text speaks of the Exodus, of Yahweh leading out his people from the slavery of Egypt when they were more faithful to him than now.
“I will espouse you to me forever, I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy. I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.” This is the promise Yahweh makes, in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Despite her conversion to Christianity, Edith remained a Jew all her life. She could not be other. But, as a Carmelite Sister, Edith had become betrothed to the Lord, she became the bride of Christ. But there was no infidelity on her part. She remained faithful even to the sacrifice of her life for her Spouse. May we ask her to give us some of her faithfulness and courage.