Having some feeling for underdogs I identify with the foolish maidens.
If you're so smart (I'd have the gumption to challenge my betters!), why didn't you kindly point out that I might need a refill? When we all had to jump up in the middle of the night (how could a man take so long at so pressing a time?), why couldn't you risk letting me share a little from your flasks? Couldn't just one or two go to shop, if need be, rather than offend the bridegroom by halving the number of attendants he expected?
Wasn't the banquet's barred door, with his implacable "I will have nothing to do with you", a penalty disproportionate? Tough-minded these shrewd heroines were. Their lackadaisical sisters could not redress the emergency. What happened next to them?
In the parable, which must be read soberly for its purpose, Christ is the bridegroom; the bridesmaids are Christians awaiting Christ's return. Much in the gospel alludes to his return soon, and so a burning question towards the end of the first century was why he delayed, why was he 'late'?
You are in permanent ignorance, this parable of Matthew's Gospel declares. But what matters is alert preparation for whenever the return may be; alertness, as no one can always stay awake.
We reflect that, in Christian living, all are called on to engage the gifts of various kinds that God gives in different measures. The wisdom that is the subject of the first reading today is to be won in the best measure attainable. The wise five in the parable provide a good-enough (bracing it is!) positive model. Making provident allowance for the unexpected, they were ready.
The apathetic others give a negative contrast. We have to register the moral that by the wisdom or folly of each one's conduct (according as God's grace is received or rejected), each at Christ's call, whether by his glorious return, or as we suppose by death, will be accepted or rejected on individual merit. In the end no one else can substitute for the preparedness for Christ as individually it is possible and so incumbent on you and me.
The lamp oil is a constituent of the story, but it can be read as providing the light of faith in a dark world, the glow of hope, the diffusion of love. What are we to be, what can we do, to fulfill the demand for preparedness for Christ? What is the needed exercise of faith, hope and love?
A few people become possessed by fear over that question: no, we are to act well as it is humanly possible. More people are likely to be laid back like the foolish maidens. Leave aside the colossal quandaries presented by, say, a terrorist attack, or how to handle the taking of hostages. Our situations nearer home, or actually at home: most of us run on automatic pilot so that we are little proactive, more puppets than responsible people.
The close of this chapter of Matthew envisages the Son of Man coming in glory in judgment. Read often at funerals, this passage calls for attention at present, as what will be meted out to each depends on what each does now. The blessed have given Christ -- given him in the person of 'the least of these members of my family' -- food and drink, clothing, care when sick, visitation in prison.
In subjecting themselves to serving others' needs they were wise. Christians' giving of themselves in fellowship, effort, time and money precludes condescension and judgment. If the significance of the wise 'five' may be extended to represent all Christians with faith, hope and love making ready for Christ, the inadequate are not turned away but are themselves formed also to become ready.
Many ills of the world derive from human division in its diverse forms. Restricted though the environment of each may be, you and I can surely do more than we presently do, or aspire to do.
If we can attain and absorb the realization that all people form members of the one human family, the wiser and the more foolish will grow together in wisdom; and become readier, more prepared, to greet Christ now in one another, and then Christ in his blessed self.