From the Catholic Liturgy for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. Matthew 25:1-13.Theme: Is Your Lamp Lit and Shining Brightly?
As the Church Year draws near to its close and the liturgical calendar comes to its end next Sunday, the Gospels proclaimed in our liturgy during this time of the year draw our attention to the fact that our lives will also draw to a close on this earth. Whether this be due to the Second Coming of Christ or to our own personal deaths, Jesus is warning us of the need to be ready, to be prepared, because we do not know the day nor the hour for either of these events. The one sure thing we do know is that at some time these two things will indeed happen.
Jesus is asking each one of us: are you ready? Are you prepared? And as He typically does when teaching, Jesus uses an experience from the daily life of the people to get his lesson across and in today’s Gospel, He uses the example of the ancient Jewish wedding celebration. It might help us to know that in his time a very important part of the wedding ceremonies was the public procession.
When the wedding day arrived, the groom would go to the bride’s home escorted by his groomsmen. At the home, they would find the bridesmaids waiting for them. These chosen women would escort him to the bride and then all together they would form of joyful noisy procession to the actual wedding feast. To be chosen to be a bridesmaid was a great honor and to fail in this duty was a great public shame. Jesus is reminding us that it is a great honor to be chosen to live life as a Christian and conversely it is a great shame to fail in this gift and lose the joy of eternal life.
And what about those lamps or torches that the bridesmaids carried? Well, the women did not want to be shamed in failing to do their duty as bridesmaids, and so as evening came and the groom still had not appeared, they lit their small hand-held clay lamps so he would have a proper welcome and see that they were expecting him. In other words, the lamps were a sign that they were prepared and ready. Ancient Christian writers tell us that the lamps and the oil are symbols for two things we need to enter the heavenly wedding feast: faith in God and love for others. Just as a lamp without oil is useless, so too faith that does express itself in mercy and compassion to others is useless. It has no power to save us, to bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven.