At first glance, I found this parable unfair. It is unfair that the five stupid maids were excluded from the wedding simply because they forgot to bring enough oil for their lamps. When I read it again, I found the parable deeper than I thought before. It is about much more than a little lamp oil. Then I tried to redesign it to better understand the gospel.
“The kingdom of heaven is like ten parents who had good families. In those days, girls married so young that it was the parents’ duty to organize their weddings. Five parents had many children. And so they had many opportunities to celebrate their children's weddings. So, they knew everything it took to organize a wedding. They knew everyone involved with whom they had to contact. Also, they already had a list of their guests. They knew all the steps they had to take. In short, they knew everything. These five parents became stupid women. And the other five parents only had one child each. They had to learn by doing it. You were inexperienced in organizing a wedding. You might have been overwhelmed with a lot of preparation: finalizing the list of guests. ensure enough food and drink and properly follow the ritual. With all these engagements, they may have sleepless nights before the wedding was over. Indeed, it was the first and last chance of her life to organize or support her child's wedding. And so, they could not miss it. These five parents became wise women.”
Let us now return to the story of Christ. It should be clear by now that this is not a momentary memory loss - we forget to bring some extra oil. We are dealing with two opposing attitudes towards the wedding celebration. For the wise women, it was their one chance of a lifetime. It was something they really valued and diligently prepared for. Here was the opportunity to meet the groom and take part in the wedding feast. There was no way they would miss it. For the fools, I imagine it was a bit of fun, a joke. They would have said we should take it easy just out of habit. Deep down, they did not care. Still, they felt disappointed when they did not enter. But it was her whole attitude that was wrong, not just a small memory loss. In fact, they were not judged at a moment in their lives.
Our learning points should be clear to us by now. We are not dealing with a one-off wedding party. The stakes are far higher. It's about our eternal salvation. We are talking about the possibility of being excluded from the eternal banquet. When the word of God becomes so trusted that we no longer need to hear it, we are at risk. When sin becomes a habit to the extent that we cannot see the urgency of conversion, we are at risk. When poverty and injustice become so normal around us that we do nothing about it, we are at risk. When it becomes so normal not to pray and to seek a virtuous or Christian life, we are at risk. When God calls us, all that matters will be the kind of people we are, not what we have achieved or what we have amassed. Before that call of God comes, we ask ourselves what if we are caught off guard with no oil in our spiritual lamps? We are therefore invited to ensure that our lamps are always on. So, we have to keep pouring oil into them. And the Eucharist, prayers, our services are times to refill our lamps. Our vigilance should be a daily matter. Vigilance means keeping an eye on our faith. Vigilance is necessary to seek God and one another.
We are all called to be bearers of the light of Christ, lamp holders. But like the five foolish maids, we are sometimes careless and irresponsible, taking for granted our life of routine and let this lamp goes out or at least get very darkened.
Let us convince ourselves today that through a spirit of prayer and vigilance, Christ will help us keep His light burning brightly. God of life, please, help us keep the lamp of faith burning. Help us keep the lamp of hope burning brightly. Help us keep the lamp of love burning brightly. Never leave us alone!
By Fr. Ouwakpare Victorin Oussoi, SVD