First Reading: Ws 6:12-16; Psalm: 63. R. v. 2b; Second Reading: 1Thes 4:13-18; Gospel: Mt 25:1-13.
THE WISE DECISION OF THE FIVE MAIDENS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
In my seminary days, there was this common practice among seminarians to do things at the last minute. This was not the required formational practice but a learned behaviour amongst some lax seminarians. Whenever an assignment is given, some of us usually delay only to begin the assignment few days or a day prior to the submission date. And on many occasions, this often does not end well. It is either the assignment turns out not well written due to the slipshod approach; or some seminarians end up not submitting the required hard copy on the slated date and time with flippant excuses. Experience teaches that wisdom requires that we consider possible interruptors when carrying out any important task. Because there are certain things we cannot obtain at the last minute if we were not prepared for them.
In the Jewish tradition, at the beginning of every wedding celebration; the groom, by evening when everyone is back from the day’s labour, went with his friends to fetch his betrothed from her father’s house. Maidens (young unmarried girls) were customarily chosen among the bride’s family to wait for the groom’s arrival so they could escort the bride alongside the groom during the wedding procession from the bride’s father’s house to the groom’s family house. The groom could be delayed for several reasons related to the wedding preparations. So, there was no definite time for his arrival. Also, the wedding procession is a long ceremony that goes with singing and dancing. Every Jewish maiden knew this.
Now, the gospel of today tells us that out of the ten maidens (bridesmaid) chosen to accompany the bride, five were wise and five were foolish. We should not presume that these maidens knew they were labelled so prior to this wedding. Rather, it was their decisions that qualified some to be called “wise” and the others “foolish.”
One important thing to note is that these maidens knew one another. They were also aware of the intricacies of wedding ceremonies within their culture. They knew that the groom could be delayed in coming. They also knew that wedding ceremonies in their culture involved a time-consuming procession. So, the maidens who came with extra oil were truly wise. And the other five who did not were obviously and consciously negligent and foolish. And this brings us to the crux of this reflection. Were the five wise maidens justified to have refused to share their oil with the other foolish maidens?
Whenever a kingdom parable is read; it does not only reveal what will happen on the Last Day. It reveals more what is happening now in our lives that could help or hinder our salvation. We are the ten maidens awaiting the coming of Christ the bridegroom. And our day-to-day living is very suggestive of how ready we are for his coming.
We could easily conclude that the five wise maidens were selfish and insensitive because of their seemingly ungenerous attitude. But often times, those who get into trouble fail to blame themselves for their lack of wisdom and foresight, especially when they could anticipate possibilities that would very likely happen. If the cloud suddenly begins to turn dark gray as I step out of my house, I shouldn’t complain or blame anyone when it begins to rain and I had no umbrella with me. When we choose to take chances, we should be ready to face the consequences if we are unable to bail ourselves out.
The five wise maidens did nothing wrong. There are times we have to say ‘No’ so that irresponsible people could learn their lesson the hard way. If we kept bailing out someone who is indisposed to change for the better; that person may never grow up. Just like the five foolish maidens, there are people who are consciously manipulative, irresponsible, and imprudent. They enjoy making careless decisions hoping to take advantage of people’s kind-heartedness when they get into trouble. Charity is not always about helping people out; it is also about making people better. So sometimes, saying ‘No’ could be a kind rebuke and an eye-opener to the one reprimanded.
If I have a friend who unfortunately is addicted to alcohol and drugs; I should be discreet about lending such a friend some money. If we happen to be in a relationship where we find ourselves always at the giving end; we will be encouraging a selfish relationship and feeding the manipulative appetite of our partner. If we have an abusive spouse who poses a threat to our life and who is indisposed to change or seek for help; remaining under the same roof with him/her will do you both no good. Choosing to be selfish can sometimes be very positive and instructive. If we kept yielding to the manipulative and irresponsible attitude of certain people in the name of charity or love; we will inadvertently be destroying them. Love is making each other better.
Sometimes, we fail to say ‘No’ to people because we do not wish to hurt them. And they keep living in their imprudent lifestyle. But love demands that we let the manipulative know they are manipulative, and the irresponsible know they are irresponsible. We can do this through action and inaction. If the five foolish maidens were to attend another wedding after this sad experience; we can bet that not all five will repeat such a careless decision. But if they were helped by the five wise maidens, maybe they would have continued in their irresponsible ways.
The first reading of today instructs us to seek for wisdom; for those who search for wisdom finds her. The five wise maidens in our gospel parable exemplify wisdom. Wisdom is living the present with the future in view. Wisdom is being proactive and foresighted. Wisdom also means learning from our careless and regrettable pasts. The parable of the ten maidens should teach us wisdom. It should warn us that we cannot always have our way. It should open our eyes to the fact that it does not pay to be careless, manipulative and irresponsible. And ultimately, that we must keep our lamps burning through faith and charity so that when Christ comes he may find us ready.
Like the ten maidens, we are all waiting with our burning lamps for the coming of Christ. Living the faith keeps our lamp burning. And works of charity is the oil in our lamps. Our extra oil is perseverance in charity. And the bridegroom’s delay is the time we have left. In the words of St Augustine; “Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, watch with good works . . .; make ready the lamps, make sure they do not go out . . .; renew them with the inner oil of an upright conscience; then shall the Bridegroom enfold you in the embrace of his love and bring you into his banquet room, where your lamp can never be extinguished.” (Sermon no 93).
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, may we grow in wisdom to make responsible decisions that will keep us ready as we await your final coming. Amen.