What does it mean to be “wise”? The Old Testament has plenty of books and material on “wisdom” and we have an example of its thinking in the first reading. But in the Gospel, Jesus does not give a lecture on wisdom; instead he tells a story. And like all his stories or parables, there is a certain ambiguity in it, and we have to work out what it is all about.
Weren’t the five wise virgins really a bit selfish? Couldn’t they have helped out the others even with a little oil? But that’s not the point. The point of the story is why they kept their oil and why they stayed up until midnight. It was to be ready to meet the bridegroom. Nothing could be allowed to get in the way of that.
Being ready to meet the bridegroom, to meet Christ, is what is required of us, not just in our last days but in our daily living. Being ready to act and react for our neighbour when the Spirit urges us. Being ready to pray and to speak when we are required to do so. Being able to tell the difference between what is important, what is less important, and what is not important at all.
True wisdom is not just “common sense”. Jesus turned many commonsensical ideas of his time on their head such as the accepted ideas about the law, about foreigners, and about the status of women. His death on Calvary did not make sense in any human way. And Christians today are called to question some of the accepted tropes of our own society and culture.
Like the five wise virgins, we cannot save others, but we can help them to find the way to salvation. We are called to accompany each other on the way but each one of us has to make his or her own decisions.
Image: Tintoretto, Jacopo; The Wise and Foolish Virgins; National Trust, Upton House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-wise-and-foolish-virgins-131969 circa 1546
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