As with any good book, the books of the Bible can only be fully understood if you read the whole book. This past year, we have been privileged to hear much of one of these books, the Gospel of Matthew, and it’s important to recap some of the points made earlier in this Gospel to fully understand today’s passage. Otherwise, it might seem as if the five wise virgins we heard about were being rather unchristian in not sharing their oil. After all, doesn’t Jesus teach us to share? So, let’s quickly review some of the earlier lessons we have heard over this past year. Very early on in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus, as he begins his public ministry, being announced as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that declared: “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” Jesus is the light that has arisen.
Then, right after Jesus teaches his followers the beatitudes during his famous Sermon on the Mount he – the light that has arisen – calls to all who follow him, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (5:15-16).
Finally, as Jesus continues to teach about true discipleship, we hear him declare, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” He goes on to explain, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. But, everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined” (cf. 7:21ff.).
It is with this background from earlier teachings in Matthew’s Gospel that we can truly understand today’s reading. Early on in his ministry, Jesus announces that he is the light that has come to overcome death and enlighten those in darkness. And, he shines his light by doing the will of his heavenly Father, teaching the Good News and healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving the sinner. He then teaches his followers how to live in this light by following his teachings in the beatitudes, recognizing their complete dependence on God, acting as peacemakers, showing God’s mercy. He then tells them that they are “the light of the world” and that they shine the light of Christ in the world by doing what he has commanded. It’s not enough to just say, “Lord, Lord.”
Entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires that each of us do the work that God has called us to do, at home, at school, at work, in our everyday lives.
As we have heard over the past several weeks, in today’s Gospel we hear a parable about the kingdom of heaven. The five foolish virgins that we hear about in today’s parable are the ones who have not filled their oil lamps with good works so as to shine the light of God’s presence in the world and so they are not welcomed into God’s heavenly banquet. The wise virgins can’t give the foolish virgins their good works. Each one of us will be judged on our own good works. As we come quickly to the end of the liturgical calendar – the Feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of our liturgical year, is only two weeks away – we are once again called to prepare ourselves for the time when the bridegroom – Jesus Christ – will come, by filling our oil lamps with good works so that we can shine the light of God’s goodness in our lives. That’s how we will be welcomed into his wedding feast.
It is this wisdom – resplendent and unfading wisdom – that today’s first reading encourages us to seek. Because, as we hear in today’s second reading, “the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise.”
On the first of November, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The next day, we celebrated the Feast of All Souls. Throughout this month of November, we remember all of our beloved dead as we prepare for our own deaths. We will all die – that is certain and we have no control over that. But, whether we are welcomed into the heavenly wedding feast or not will depend on whether or not we fill our lamps with good deeds, shining the light of God’s loving presence in this world so often engulfed in darkness. I’m working to join in the eternal banquet and hope to see you there, as well!