Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Don't the Wise Virgins Share?

I love it when a homily gives me a good answer to something I've been wondering about. This particular wondering in question was actually raised again in Sunday's homily, and answered by another priest (who was wondering about the same thing) a few days later.

Remember that parable of the ten virgins in Mt. 25, where five are wise and have their lamps stocked with oil and five are foolish and want to mooch off the others? And the wise ones tell the others to buzz off and get their own? So, what is that, anyway? Is Jesus' point something about non-equal distribution of goods and how if you don't work for something, you're screwed, and don't expect me to come along and bail you out? Would it be so hard for the wise virgins to simply say, "Fine, here's a little bit of my oil. Because I'm wise, I'm filled with generosity. We can share." But that's not what Jesus has them say. What is Jesus really advocating here?

That was the issue raised, briefly, in the first homily I heard on this gospel. The second priest, a few days later, preaching on another text, said he had been pondering on this in light of the other Scripture at hand and shared what I thought was a brilliant insight.

Don't forget, of course, that it's a parable. Stuff of this earth is important, but all of it has a sign value: it points to something greater, something eternal, something ultimate. This priest pointed out that the oil the wise virgins have does not represent something tangible that one person can literally be given by another. When the foolish virgins say "Give us some oil!" they aren't being denied because the wise women are stingy. They don't get what they want because getting what they want the way they are wanting it is impossible. It is like a couple in a troubled marriage looking at a happily married couple and saying, "We want your kind of love." Or a lazy man looking at a hard working man and saying "I want your self-discipline and initiative." Or a pilgrim in the journey of faith looking at a humble saint and saying "I want your relationship with God."

It is all well and good to want these things. In fact, these desires lurk in our hearts all along, and it is seeing the glory of God manifested in its various forms in other people that really brings these desires out and makes us feel them. But it is too late to start acknowledging them when the Bridegroom is at the gate and the jig is almost up. The whole point of the parable is that we have to start being honest with ourselves about our desires and our needs and our shortcomings right now. Confess these desires and needs to God right now, and enter into His process for getting from Him, the giver of all good things, what you need. He is the only source! When the moment of judgment comes (and God in His great mercy gives us many moments of judgment, of exposure of our junk, throughout our lives) it is too late to turn to someone and say, "You know, you seem to have it together with God. Why didn't you force me into what you have before this?" Is it not so easy to always blame someone else for my failing? Is it not easy to delude myself into thinking that all I have to do is loosely associate with some group I think is good to be counted as good? I don't actually have to invest my own self, do I? I can lose weight by watching Biggest Loser, right? I don't actually have to admit I am powerless and turn to God, do I?

In Revelation, Jesus says to the church Laodicea that they are to buy from him "gold refined in the fire" so that they can become rich. It is the same thing. 'Tis the season to review our lives as if we were to die next week. If you knew your jig was almost up, what would you wish you had done differently? Tell God. Talk with Him about a reasonable plan, and start doing it today.

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