Be Ready. Be Watchful. The dream lives

Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London


The local priest came across Paddy who had stumbled out of the town’s pub, drunk. “Paddy,” he said,” I’m afraid I’ll not be seeing you in Heaven one day.” “Really, Father?” mumbled Paddy. “What have you done?”

Friends, we have a parable of preparations for a wedding banquet that is to take place in the groom’s home.

Marriage imagery is used in the Gospel as a traditional way of describing the relationship between God and his people. Jesus is the bridegroom who will arrive triumphantly at the end.

The ten virgins waiting into the night represent the disciples that await his coming. A possible conversation among them as they prepared could go like this: “Do you think we need to take some extra oil for our lamps?” “Why? The bridegroom will arrive at sunset anyway. That’s what the programme says.” “But what if he is delayed?” “C’mon! Why are you so negative? You want us to have extra oil that we are not going to use? Why can’t you see the bright side of things?” “Yes, but you never know. I’m taking extra oil, just in case…”

The bridegroom is long in coming contrary to the expectations of those early Christians who, overwhelmed by their profound experience of Jesus, believed that his Second Coming and the end of the world was immediate.

Both the wise virgins who took extra oil and the foolish ones who didn’t grew drowsy and fall asleep as the waiting lingered. It seems therefore that the point is not being fully awake at every single moment but rather the overall readiness when the time comes to answer the ultimate call.

How then can we be ready? We all received the divine life of faith at baptism (the burning lamps which all the virgins had) but not all persevere in good works (the extra oil which only the wise virgins had). The best way to prepare for the end is to persevere in good works of love and service which keeps the divine life of faith alive. Faith without good works is dead (James 2:26).

That the bridegroom arrived behind schedule in the parable means that there should be no ‘clock out’ time when it comes to good works; God is usually encountered at those moments when we go the extra mile. The times we work ‘over time’ are therefore the moments of grace.

Like the foolish virgins who took just enough oil to serve them in regulation time, most ‘pious’ Christians are minimalist when it comes to good works. They work by the clock and only fulfil obligations. Minimalists only respond to significant others; people that can have decisive say or influence in their lives. They have no time for ‘the nobodies’.

Jesus reproached them in the Sermon on the Mount when he said that if you give only to those from whom you expect something in return, you haven’t done anything special as even pagans do as much.

The way to prepare for the end is not to live in fear and anxiety or running after end time prophets who claim to have access to God’s secret calendar of when the rapture will occur.

I once asked some college students what they’ll do should they learn that they’ve got only few hours to live. Most said they’ll rush to the nearest Church to meet the priest for confession. As the nearest Church was mine, I told them that we’ll definitely miss each other on the chaotic road since I’ll equally be rushing to the nearest priest for my own confession. Panic or anxiety is the one condition under which preparations should never be made! Procrastination usually precedes anxiety. That’s why Christmas Eve is usually the biggest shopping day of the year.

During our seminary days, a seminarian who was supposed to chant the responsorial psalm at Mass on the Sunday left the preparation till the night before. We could not sleep in the hostel that night as he practised till dawn. At Mass that morning we all looked forward to the chant of the year but behold he was nowhere to be found. He had overslept! The truly wise person is the one who has not waited until later to make Jesus the lamp for his steps and the light for his paths as Psalm 119: 105 prayed.

For quite a number of Christians it seems that setting up a career and making money are more important priorities than striving to live in the light of the Gospel. It is a risky investment. The blueprint for life is Jesus and the way he offers in the Gospel.

The truly wise person builds his life on Jesus as the Way, on Jesus as Truth and Life, not only for the future but for here and now. It is the only sure means to fulfilment and authentic happiness. The others are futile experimentations.

When we live in the light of the Gospel, we encounter God and respond to Him in our ordinary everyday experiences; in the people we meet, in the events that take place, in the situations in which we find ourselves. Jesus is thus no stranger to us. He can bring many surprises but he is never unexpected.

When we eventually hear the final call, we are not anxious. We are happy and more than ready to meet an old friend face to face. Instead of knocking frantically at his door like the foolish virgins that were locked out, we’ll find that he comes to knock at our door in keeping with his words in Revelation 3:20 “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”.

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