32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Nov 12, 2017
It sounds a little harsh, don’t you think: to be excluded from the wedding banquet simply because they forgot to bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit. And, as if it wasn’t bad enough, when they knock, the master responds, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know you.”
After hearing this parable of Jesus, we can think that Heaven must be a hard place to get into. One little mistake, one little slip, and “slam . . . your out”. I mean, what if one of the bridesmaids was pushed and spilled her oil. Would she be allowed in then? Or what if one bridesmaid had a defective lamp, the fault of the manufacturer no doubt. Would the master take that into consideration? After hearing the parable of the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids, we can think that getting to heaven is like playing a game where we haven’t been told all the rules, yet God still expects us to do everything right none the less.
However, the truth is no one gets to heave by chance. And no one is excluded because they simply forgot something. God is not that fickle
So how can we understand Jesus’ parable. Well remember that a parable is a story is which the characters and objects represent things in the real world. In the parable of the sower who threw seeds in the field, the seed represented the Word of God and the soil represented us receiving it.
Well, in today’s parable, everything seems to focus on this flame the bridesmaids have in their lamp. If the lamp is still lit when the master comes, then all is well. But if not, well we know what happens. So what does this flame represent and why is it so important? The answer came last Sunday.
Last Sunday, we had the baptism of seven beautiful newborn children. At one point in the celebration I invited the godparents to come forward and one by one they receive a little candle that was lit with the fire of the pascal candle. And while they stood there I said to them,
“Parents and Godparents, this light is intrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ . . . May they keep the light of faith alive in their hearts. When the Lord comes may they go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
The lighting of the baptismal candle is a direct reference to the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. We want these children to go out to meet the Lord when he comes just as the wise bridesmaids did when their master came. But did you catch what it says about the flame, what it represents? Let me repeat that part, it says “let them keep the lite of faith alive in their hearts.” – the light of faith. Faith is what these flames represent. The flame of the baptismal candle represents the faith of the children, and likewise the flame of the lamps represent the faith of the bridesmaids in the parable.
This understanding of the fame makes even more sense if we consider that the master was coming late at night. There were no street lamps in Jesus’ time, so the streets would have been pitch black. The only way for the bridesmaids to see their master was with the flame of their lamp. I can think of no better symbol for faith, because one can only see Jesus with the light of faith, and outside of that faith there is only darkness. Those bridesmaids who had their lamps lit, then, were able to see their master when he came, but those whose lamps had gone out, all they could see was darkness.
Those foolish bridesmaids, then, were not excluded because of a technicality. They had lost their faith. They let it burn out and now were in darkness.
The primary message of the parable seems to be that only those who keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts will enter the kingdom of heaven. This itself should encourage us keep the faith and do what we can to support others whose faith is wavering. However, the parable has another, more practical, message that we can take to heart.
The foolish bridesmaids’ lamps went out because they ran out of oil. They neglected to seek out the very thing that fuels the flame. On the contrary, the wise bridesmaids made the effort ahead of time and obtained the fuel they needed to keep their lamps alight.
If the flame in this parable represents faith, then the fuel represents God’s grace. The Christion life of faith is fueled exclusively by God’s grace. With it we are sustained and become lights for the world, and without it we wither away.
And where is this fuel to be found? In one sense you can find it anywhere. Any prayer you offer to God is a source of grace. In the morning, in the middle of the day or at night, you can ask God to fill you with his grace, and he will respond. In fact there is a prayer called the Angelus, traditionally said three times a day at 6 in the morning, 12 noon, and 6 in the evening. And that prayer we ask for God’s grace saying, “Pour forth, oh Lord, your grace into our hearts”. Adopting this practice of praying the Angelus or any prayer three times a day will only increase God’s grace in us and give us that oil to fuel our faith.
Also, while prayer is a source of grace, the greatest prayers and greatest sources of grace are the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we offer up the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and then we receive him in Holy Communion. Quite literally God enters into our souls and floods us with his grace. God has given us the gift of the Eucharist because he knows that our lives are tough and that our faith is tested, strained, and sometimes exhausted thought the week. That is why he wants us to come to him at Mass to receive the fuel that will help us keep our faith alive for another week.
I say this to encourage you who are here. I know that it is not always easy to come to Mass. Sometimes we just don’t feel like going. And if you can keep it a secret, even priests feel that way sometimes. But if we understand that we need this – our faith needs this – then we can fight that temptation and come to the altar where Jesus will give us what we need.
I also say this to inspire you to think of those who are not here. We know that they need God’s grace just as much as the rest of us. You may have a neighbour that has the light of faith but the fuel is running low, how much longer will it be before they run out, give up on God, and lose the faith? Can we find a way to reach out to those people, and invite them to come to the place where they will be welcomed and their faith will receive the re-strengthening it needs? I challenge you to think of someone right now who you could simply invite to Mass next week.
In the end, Jesus’ parables are there to help us get to heaven. He has provided us with an example of wise and foolish bridesmaids. May we learn from his parable, and always strive to be on the side of the wise bridesmaids, so that we might be welcomed into the master’s banquet when he comes.