THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Parable of the lamps
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
We are all called to be bearers of the light of Christ, lamp-carriers, if you like. But like the five foolish maids, we too are sometimes careless and irresponsible, and allow this lamp to go out or at least grow very dim. [Pause]
Through a spirit of prayer and watchfulness, Christ will help us to keep his light burning brightly.
Lord, you help us to keep the lamp of faith burning brightly. Lord, have mercy.
You, help us to keep the lamp of hope burning brightly. Christ, have mercy.
You help us to keep the lamp of love burning brightly. Lord, have mercy.
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Wisdom 6: 12-16). This sings the praise of wisdom. At the same time it says that wisdom can be found by all those who seek it.
Second Reading (Thessalonians 4:13-18). St Paul consoles his converts at Thessalonika who are worried about the fate of their loved ones Who have died. He tells them that God will raise them up as surely as he raised up Christ.
Gospel (Matthew 2521-13). A story which urges us to stay awake because we do not know the day or the hour of the Lord‘s coming.
At first sight this parable seems rather unfair. It seems unfair that the five foolish maids ere excluded from the wedding simply because they forgot to bring sufficient Oil for their lamps. Another thing: why didn’t the wise ones share some of their oil with them? Were they not guilty of rank selfishness? The parable is deeper than it seems. There is far more involved that a little lamp oil. Here is an attempt at a modern version of it. I hope it will help us to understand the original version better.
The Kingdom of heaven is like ten women who went to look for bargains in the after-Christmas sales. They set out bright and early and, to their great delight, secured places near the head of the queue outside a leading city store. Each of them had brought along her handbag which she now gripped tightly to guard against would be snatchers.
Five of the women were wise and generous. They were hard working mothers who had made a lot of personal sacrifices in saving up for the sales. They desperately needed the bargains as each had a large young family to provide for. They were not thinking of themselves but of their homes and their children.
The other five were foolish and selfish. They didn’t really need the bargains as their children were grown up. It was a combination of greed and the excitement of bargain-hunting that had brought them along. One thing was clear: they were thinking only of what they could get out of it for themselves.
The store was late in opening. The waiting was tiring. All ten women grew sleepy, and managed to get forty winks standing there. Then suddenly a cry arose: ‘They’re opening!’ With that each of them took a hurried look into her handbag to see if her money was still there. It was then that the foolish ones discovered, to their horror, that they had only a few pounds with them. They had clean forgotten that they had gone on a spree the previous weekend, and spent most of the money they had put aside for the sales.
In their panic they turned to the wise ones and said: ‘Lend us a little money. We’ll pay you back just as soon as we get home’.
‘Sorry’, the wise ones answered, ‘we’ve just barely got enough for ourselves. This is our big opportunity. We can’t afford to miss it. The best thing you can do is dash back home and get some more’.
As they said this, they were carried inside the store on the crest of the first wave of frantic bargain-hunters. As for the foolish ones, they were left standing there on the pavement like bits of driftwood left behind by the tide. However, they soon came to their senses, grabbed a taxi, and dashed back home. But by the time the banks opened, and they got back to the store, it was already half-empty.
All the best bargains were gone. They went to the manager and complained.
‘Sorry, ladies’, he said, ‘but there’s nothing I can do for you. It’s your own fault. Why didn’t you come in time?’
They knew of course that he was right. They departed empty handed, sad, frustrated all because of their foolishness and carelessness.
Now let us return to Christ’s story. It should be quite clear that we are not talking about a momentary lapse of memory – forgetting to bring along some extra oil. What we are dealing with are two contrasting attitudes towards the wedding feast.
For the wise maids it was obviously the chance of a lifetime. It was something they really appreciated and for which they had prepared diligently. Here was a never-to—be-repeated opportunity to meet the Bridegroom and to get into the wedding feast. No way were they going to miss it.
For the foolish ones I imagine it was a bit of fun, a lark, as they say. They tagged along merely out of duty or habit. Deep down they really didn’t care. Even so, they felt let-down when they didn‘t get in. But it was their whole attitude that was wrong, not just one little lapse of concentration or memory. In other words, they were not judged on one moment of their lives. The first five were ready, careful, and wise – all doers of the word. The second five were unprepared, careless, and foolish – mere hearers of the word.
For us the lesson should be pretty obvious. We are not dealing with a few bargains, or even with a once-off wedding feast. The stakes are far higher. It is our eternal salvation that is at stake. We are talking about the possibility of finding ourselves locked out of the eternal banquet.
When the Lord’s call comes, all that will matter will be the kind of persons we are, not what we have achieved or what we have amassed. What if we should be caught unprepared, with no oil in our spiritual lamps? We have to make sure that our lamps are always burning. Therefore, we must keep on putting oil into them. The Lord can come at any moment. There are no truer words in the whole of the Gospel.
However, let us not forget that it is to something joyful that we are invited. It is to a wedding feast, not a funeral. It is too good to be missed. If we have made Christ our best and closest companion on the road of life, then it is unlikely that his final coming will catch us unprepared.
‘We pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap’. (Solzhenitsyn).
‘We all want something for nothing, quickly, and without have to pay for’it’. (Dostoyevsky).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray to God our Father for the gift of wisdom, so that we may always be ready to receive Christ his Son. R. Lord, hear our prayer.
For the Church: that through an effective preaching of the Gospel it may provide a lamp of hope for a world darkened by despair. [Pause] We pray to the Lord.
For all political leaders: that they may be watchful and-responsible, and so provide a lamp of peace for a world darkened by war. [Pause] We pray to the Lord.
For all those who live foolishly and irresponsibly, with no thought for Christ or the Kingdom of God. [Pause] We pray to the Lord.
That through prayer and good works we may wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. [Pause] We pray to the Lord.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
Father, you are always near us. You continue to love us even when we live foolishly and forget who we are and where we are going. Help us to grow in wisdom and love. We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
An empty lamp,
no matter how beautiful it may be,
is a useless lamp for it cannot give light.
The foolish have no oil in their lamps.
They have burned themselves out
through a life of self-seeking
and dedication to worldly cares and vanities.
They do not even think of the Lord,
much less wait for his coming.
The wise have oil in their lamps.
They are detached from themselves
and from the cares of the world,
and are full of charity.
They are indeed waiting for the Lord,
and desire nothing else but his coming.
Lord, grant that when you come
. our minds may be alight with faith,
our souls alight with hope,
and our hearts alight with love.
Then you will lead us into the wedding feast,
a feast of unending light and joy.