Saint Anselm of Canterbury once said, “Nothing is more certain than death, nothing more uncertain than its hour.” Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ own warning. “Stay awake,” he warns us, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” I have a funeral to attend and to serve at tomorrow for a good man who died at a very old age. He lived a good life and he brought life and joy to those around him. And he was blessed with a long and healthy life. He was one of the wise virgins that Jesus speaks about today in the Gospel.
These bridesmaids had the role of preparing for the groom so that upon his arrival all would be ready. Not knowing at what hour he might arrive, half of them were thoughtful enough to prepare for whatever hour he might arrive, and the other half were not. Of course, Jesus is the bridegroom and the bride his church. The bridesmaids representing all who eagerly await the return of the King. The moral of the story is crystal clear, Jesus will return, not everyone will be ready, and many will be left outside unable to get into heaven. That last bit is probably worth repeating. According to Jesus, no more than half of those who await his coming will be ready when they are called.
This parable was written at a time when the disciples thought that they would not see death before Christ’s return. As St. Paul says, “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Clearly, Paul counted himself among those who would still be alive when Jesus returned. Jesus did not return within his lifetime, and not for 2,000 years. So far from obsolete, Jesus’ warning is as important now as ever: the bridegroom is long delayed, what should we do to prepare? Time is running out.
The truth is that I don’t know when Jesus will return, but I do know that he will. We profess it in our Creed each Sunday. We say, “He is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” We say it…but do we believe it? I had a good friend who was 7th Day Adventist. All he ever talked about was being ready! “Jesus will return at any moment,” he would say.
He believed it, and he lived it, and I have no doubt he’ll be ready. What do you think it looks like to really believe that Jesus will return at any moment? What does it mean for us to be ready to give an account of our life? If Jesus were to return, what would it look like for children? For adults? For the elderly? I think for kids: honoring their father and mother, respecting their elders and their teachers, appreciating everything people do for them, saying please and thank you, playing joyfully, helping out a lot and complaining very little.
I think for adults it means doing a hard day’s work in the community or in the home. It means making family and friends a priority, spending quality time with your children and your aging parents. It means going for a walk or for a drive to visit a friend. It means paying your taxes, volunteering in your community and at church, using your wealth to help those in need, and courageously speaking up for needed change in our world. It means praying as a family, going to church, removing bitterness and anger from our heart, making peace with others.
For the elderly, it means spending time with your children and grand- children. Sharing wisdom and stories, infusing virtue and valor. It means staying active and healthy, positive, and uplifting, sharing life and love, goodness and truth about the way things ought to be, and helping others to know the love of God through your calm, merciful, and caring attitude.
So, which do you think you are? Are you among the wise or the foolish? I don’t know when Jesus will return. He could be back this very evening to judge the living and the dead…but maybe not for a thousand years. I don’t know. But what I do know, as we reach the end of our liturgical year, is that time is running out. For the world…and for each of us individually.
Truthfully, whether or not Christ returns today or not–today might be the last day I have to get things right. Children pass tragically and suddenly, adults, and the elderly–every moment of everyday time runs out, and as St. Anselm said, “Nothing is more certain than death. And nothing more uncertain than its hour.”
It’s not too late though. Did anyone else here think, “If the groom was long delayed, why didn’t the foolish teenagers go get more oil while they had the chance?” When they saw that the five wise ones brought extra (good planning), why didn’t they go get more too? Why didn’t they take advantage of the delay? Let’s not be foolish. If you’re like me, you’re probably low on oil. You’re probably not prepared. But we have a choice today. End bitterness and anger. Put an end to rivalry and trash talking. Stop bickering and gossiping, slandering, and being pessimistic–always bringing the dark cloud wherever we go. Start smiling. Start being thankful. Start being generous. Start getting our priorities right. Stop getting drunk using profanity, and start spending time in prayer and in service to others.
The bridegroom is delayed. Don’t be foolish. Get some oil. Don’t be left out in the cold. Young or old, we’ve not a moment to spare.