Can you imagine a scene in which there are ten contestants, pitted against each other at an international piano competition? Image further that five of them have constantly practiced their entries to perfection, and remained ever ready to be called to play. Meanwhile, imagine the other five contestants spending their time watching television and eating pizza and doing everything but practicing. If you can envision this, it won't take much imagination to figure out who would meet the approval of the judges.
This might be an example through which Jesus would approach us in 2002, to make an important point about the way of God. But, of course, Jesus was not aware of piano competitions, so he drew from what he knew. In today's Gospel, we find him telling about some maidens who were called to serve as attendants at a wedding.
In that time, weddings were great moments in the life of a village, with every resident participating. If the bridegroom came from another village, as seems to be the case here, there was no way to know exactly when he would arrive, and therefore it was not certain exactly when the wedding would begin. To compensate for this, maidens kept the bride company, awaiting the arrival of the groom with great anticipation. Of course, when it grew dark on such occasions, lamps were needed to see.
As soon as the bridegroom arrived, a festive welcome was made and a torchlight procession led the couple to the place of the wedding. When the procession reached the appointed place, all entered, the doors were locked, and the festivities began. No one was admitted late.
Jesus used this setting, quite familiar to his hearers, to present a parable about ten maidens, five who were prepared for the eventualities and five who were not.
The wise ones had prepared. They had enough oil to last until the bridegroom came. They were ready. They knew what was required of them, and they did it. When the time came, they were able to act in a manner that was faithful to their culture.
The foolish attendants were unprepared. They ran out of oil and were unable to obtain more. So, when their moment came, they lost the opportunity to help light the way. They were unable to act out their appointed role in the community. They lost the chance even to witness the wedding.
Over and over again Jesus shows us what God is like. Today, he illustrates the truth that God takes no vacations. God never takes a break from offering love to us graciously. God is always prepared. God never stops forgiving us. God never ceases to watch over us. God never rests from the desire that we follow in his way. God never lets up on loving us, no matter how much we may rebel and stray. God is always ready.
For our part, as we seek to stay on the journey of faith, we live and move by doing and being what Christ is. Imitating God, we take no vacation from being prepared to act in keeping with the values of God. We must therefore imitate the wise maidens, remaining prepared, moving in accordance with our training, when the time comes to act.
And like the maidens in Jesus' parable, we do not know when or how we will be called upon. But if we remain always prepared, we will be able to act in accordance with the values we confess, through the Baptismal Covenant and other tenets of our faith. To be prepared is to practice these values, more perfectly, and with more dedication, than the wise maidens.
Although God's gifts are free, the questions for today are these: Will we be like the wise or the foolish maidens? Will we be prepared to recognize and accept what God offers us? Will we recognize God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's joy, hope, and the wonders of God's creation? Will we be able to accept these gifts and, in response, will we be able to act toward others as God has acted toward us? Are we prepared? As God presents us daily with challenges and choices, will we be ready?