So let me tell you about a really good friend of mine from college – I’ll call her Allie – truly one of funniest, most random, crazy (in a ha ha; not an EEK way) people I’ve ever met. More simply she was a theatre major. For those of you who are theatre majors, you know that’s totally not a slam – it’s meant to be descriptive. You know what I mean, theatre majors seem to be dramatic on and off the stage. That was Allie... I mean - she seriously could never take drugs or dink alcohol because of some health stuff that she took very seriously - so she was totally drug free and sober as can be - but you would be convinced she was on something. She’d call me up at 3:00 in the morning singing Neil Diamond songs, for no reason. And we were so cutting edge at DeSales University, our dorms had this new thing called “voice mail”. So if I decided I didn’t want to deal with her 3 am serenades, and set it so that it would go straight to voice mail, she would leave 37 messages, fill up the entire voice mail box with her singing. So that is Allie...
Anyway, so the first time I really spoke to her was Freshman year... I was a bit introverted and somewhat shy the first couple of weeks (shocking I know). I didn’t really know Allie... I mean I heard of her and definitely heard her in some of her more colorful moments in class, in the cafeteria. I tended to stay away from the louder types. We were both in Fr. O’Connor’s Introduction to Philosophy class. It was the morning of our mid-terms - our first midterms as freshmen. Fr. O’Connor was a brilliant, philosophical tormenter. He gave us a week and a half before the exam with a list of 10 Essay Questions, from which he would pick 8 and you had to do 7 - so you could skip 2 questions altogether. But basically you had to memorize and outline your answers to the other ones... So it would be something like “Explain the meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Socrates final address – note three similarities, three contrasts and explain how its related to your college experience” . So you had to basically write 8 mini-term papers- outline them - memorize them - oh and they had to be correct too - and then write them out the day of the exam. So like I said, it was Freshman year, it was my first time going through that. I had worked on this stupid review sheet for the whole week and a half. Trying to memorize and remember it was torturous. It caused me for the first time, ever, to have an “all-nighter”. So it’s the morning of the test. I’m pacing in the hall outside the class room, reading through my notes again - waiting for the torture session to start (hoping that certain questions would be eliminated).
That’s when I had my first conversation with Allie. She came in, looking like she was shot out of a canon - hair was all a mess. She doesn’t even know my name, comes up to me and says to me “Yeah - you look smart... you gotta help me... We have a test today? Right? What’s going to be on it, I mean what do I need to know?”
That was the first time in a week and a half that I felt reasonably sure I wasn’t going to do the worst on the exam. I think I just looked at her and said something like “you’re joking right?” That’s when she continued “ YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – I WAS AT LABUDA ALL WEEK [that was the name of the theatre building]... PLEASE - YOU GOTTA HELP ME” That’s when Fr. O’Connor walked in - and she just turns her head and says “He’s a priest, he has to be nice.” That’s when I said, “Yeah, I know his boss is pretty nice, and you know what, at this point, you’re better off talking to him, because Jesus is the only one who can help you now.”
I remember the scowl, open mouth, stunned - angry/shocked look she had with a “Jim Chern I can’t believe you just said that” (wow, she did know my name).
Seriously though, while that story was comical - how unrealistic was that? I mean even if I had considered cheating to help (at that point) crazy stranger - you can’t cheat on an essay exam. And you sure as heck can’t learn all you needed to know - a half of semesters of course work; a week and a half of researching, studying and memorizing things – in just a few minutes. Even if I really wanted to at that point, it was way too late. No charity, no desire on my part would’ve been able to help Allie miraculously learn what she needed to pass the exam.
That’s the same point Jesus was making in today’s parable. When we hear a parable, Jesus is trying to tell a story to convey some deep truth, some important information in a dramatic memorable way. So this story about the five virgins why don’t they want to share oil with the five foolish ones - what’s up with that? It seems like they’re just being petty doesn’t it? We’re expecting Jesus to come down hard on the “wise” ones as being arrogant or selfish. The thing was to give a little historical context - at the time, this was part of the custom of weddings. Weddings were like “the event” of the year - the whole town would be buzzing about it. But the bridegroom would come at an unexpected time to kind of surprise them. So if you were prepared, you got in. If not, you’re on the D list outside trying to beg the bouncer to let you in. So Jesus’ initial audience would’ve realized that custom and the deeper meaning that Jesus was sharing to his immediate audience. That Israel, the Jewish people were the ones invited to the Wedding Feast, and they should’ve been anticipating and awaiting the “groom” - The Messiah...
For us who are Catholic Christian, hearing this tonight, we see Jesus as the Groom and the Church is her Bride. So how does this parable speak to us? As we await Jesus’ return at the end of all time, the oil in the lamps that we heard about in the parable represents something that cannot be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. One religious writer put it, The wise virgins “represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterize a complete Christian life.” So when you look at the parable that way, you see how dramatic the differences between the wise and foolish maidens are. The wise choose to live chastely rather than the foolish one to give into lust; the wisdom to have self-control and restraint rather than getting drunk or high. It’s the difference between the charitable and the greedy; the hardworking versus the lazy; being patient rather than giving into rage; being kind rather than envious. The wise who are humble rather than the foolish who’s pride and ego’s are way out of control.
When we look at those virtues over vices we realize it’s just like my friend Allie the day of the exam - just like you can’t learn half a semester of material in an instant, we can’t move from being foolish to virtuous in an instant. Those are choices, decisions, steps we make on a daily basis that moves us in one direction or the other. We grow closer to the Lord or further from him in all the decisions we make. Jesus shares this parable to illustrate the importance for us to be engaged in that battle to make those virtuous choices. To be working always to fill our lanterns with the oil that has us burning bright to welcome the “bridegroom” who is Jesus Christ who wants to unite with us, in that grand wedding celebration of eternity. The great thing is, for those of us who find our oil running a little low, we can begin right here, right now to change that. A good confession, a change of heart, a step in the opposite direction can begin to fill our lanterns up to burn brightly the Light of Christ in our lives. So, are you’re lanterns ready for a fill up?