It’s difficult to focus today. Recent losses touch close to home. Though words usually flow from my fingertips, they escape me when it comes time to offer condolences to those in mourning. I fret over what to say to still others whose loved ones prepare to take their leave. How can I encourage those whose families and friendships remain intact, but who are immersed in suffering the rest of us cannot imagine? How do I respond to yet another senseless act of violence which took the lives of innocent people, changed the lives of their loved ones and harmed still others? How do those who continue to rebuild after hurricanes and earthquakes process this unnecessary violence? How do those who endure in violent neighborhoods and war-torn countries find the heart to acknowledge such senseless suffering? The cloudy skies which reign over this November day reflect my mood with unwanted precision.
It was with my sadness intact that I turned to today’s scripture passages for this writing. I couldn’t help giving up my frown as I discovered once again that my current sentiments are nothing new to humanity. The passage from the Book of Wisdom (6:12-16) gives Wisdom life as a woman who is always present to those who seek her. She brings understanding where none seems possible and gives meaning when this life is most difficult to understand. At the moment, I’m impelled by my aching spirit to seek Wisdom’s help in full earnest. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-18) addresses similar distress. His followers were upset because Paul had preached that Jesus would return soon to take up the righteous with him. Unfortunately, many of those good souls had since died and there was no evidence that eternal life had yet come their way. Paul consoled those who mourned by echoing Jesus’ promise of eternal life for each and every one of them. Though I needed no convincing that life in the hereafter will eventually come for us all, I couldn’t shake my frustration at being unable to find much hope in the moment at hand. It is today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) which addresses this.
This particular passage elicits memories of my childhood response to Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish virgins. According to his story, ten young women waited dutifully for a bridegroom’s arrival at his wedding. Jesus considered five of the virgins (bridesmaids in the present vernacular) to be wise because they brought along both their lamps and extra oil in preparation for the wedding. They left nothing to chance as their wait for the groom might have been longer than expected. The extra oil would allow them to relight their lamps to guide his way. Jesus considered the five remaining virgins to be foolish because they brought only their oil-filled lamps and nothing more. They had no options if the groom was late. As a fifth grader, I found myself in total disagreement with Jesus’ assessment. I felt great sympathy for the allegedly foolish virgins. After all, the groom was about to be married and it was his responsibility to be on time for his wedding. The oil in the foolish virgins’ lamps should have been enough. In my young mind, I found the groom to be the fool and quite rude for being inexcusably late for this extremely important occasion!
Over the years, the wisdom of biblical scholars has enlightened my thinking. They tell us that the bridegroom is Jesus and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of God. The wise virgins are those who prepare for and welcome this encounter. The foolish virgins miss the opportunity by being unprepared for God’s promises. Our faith in God and God’s love places us in the shoes the wise virgins. We’re prepared to embrace all that lies ahead because we’re full of hope and joy over life in the hereafter. I normally consider myself among those wise ones, but this hasn’t been the case as of late. How can I have forgotten that extra hope-filled oil for my lamp?
Patient readers that you are, you’ve born witness to many difficult times which threatened to drain the oil of hope from my lamp. In the midst of these events, I walked with the foolish virgins with barely a drop of oil to keep the flame of hope burning within me. Fortunately for me, that oil was replenished every time by an unmistakable sign offered by one good soul or another to assure me that I wasn’t alone. God joined in those efforts by sharing in every bit of my pain and by participating in every bit of kindness sent my way. Though none of us can ever completely heal the pain of another, God joins in our efforts to replenish the oil of hope every time. Though we may not always understand God’s timing any better than I understood that bridegroom’s tardiness, we can definitely count on God’s loving presence. Yes, God is with us in everything always!
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