Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Matthew 25:1-13 (Gospel reading for Friday of 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II) contains the parable of the ten maidens – five wise, five foolish. In that parable, only one reason was given for this categorization, namely, that the wise maidens took lamps with extra oil while the foolish ones took lamps without extra oil. The ready questions that then come to mind are: What does the extra oil signify? And why were the maidens denied entry to the wedding hall even though they had been previously selected to meet the bridegroom? The answers too are not far-fetched. First, the oil signifies extra effort to rise above mediocrity. Since the parable is likened to the kingdom of heaven, it implies that only those who make extra effort will be worthy of being admitted into it. Secondly, though the foolish maidens had been invited, they were denied entry in the last instance because it is one thing to be invited, but it is another thing entirely to put oneself in readiness for what the invitation demands. This is also what Jesus means when he says “not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Mat 7:21) and also, “many are called but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14). We may ask a further question: how did this happen? How did these maidens fail to prepare adequately? The answer is what we find in the readings of today’s Mass, and more precisely in the second reading.
Writing to the Romans who were gentile coverts to Christianity, Saint Paul admonished them, and now us, in these words, “Do not be conformed to the standards of this world, but let your lives be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Powerful admonition we can say. In this, lies the weakness of many Christians of our age, which silently put them in the condition of the foolish virgins who took no extra oil. As we see from the first and gospel reading, the call of God to us will demand a lot from us, and this demand will require that we always take the extra oil of greater efforts to live the good life. We will not however, be able to do this unless we live a life of nonconformity. And I dare to say that this is the biggest tragedy of Christianity today, that we are very content with being mediocre, nominal Christians who see no need to make extra effort to live the good life God expects of us. But the words of Jesus are still very much valid, that if we are neither hot nor cold, he shall spit us out of his mouth (Rev 3:15).
Dear child of God, we must always bear in mind that it is one thing to answer the name of Christian, it is another thing to live the life of Christian; it is one thing to be in the church of God, it is another thing to be on the path to heaven. Living a life of conformity with the standards of the world which makes us think certain sins are okay, which makes us imagine that God will understand because “everybody is doing it”, which makes us live by the principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” which makes us see sin as a normal part of life, and which makes us detest the idea of the cross in our lives, will bring us nothing at the end of this life but the reward of pain, damnation and eternal sorrow. For as Jesus says in today’s gospel reading, “When the Son of man comes with his angels, he will repay every man for what he has done” (Mat 16:27).
The basic call of God to us therefore is not to be conformed to the standards of this world, not to be deterred when we are mocked like the prophet Jeremiah for doing what is right, and not to shy away from carrying our crosses as Jesus admonishes in the gospel reading. We should rather let our lights shine and transform the world, for we are the light of the world (Mat 5:14). The church is to reflect the light of God to the world to illumine it, and we are that church. Sadly however, the church is gradually resembling the world; and worse is the domestic church, the family. There are too many Christian families today that have patterned their family life according to the tenets of the world: they do not pray together, they do not study scripture together, the children are not raised to know, love and serve God, the children are not exposed to Christian literature but are fed novels that are in some cases ungodly, they are not taught Christian songs, but the parents applaud them when they can mime every kind of secular songs, and many other such things as we see in families today. Instead of light conquering darkness, it appears as though darkness is infiltrating and wanting to overpower the light.
Dear friends, the word of God to us today is clear: the Christian call may be tough, but do not bend to the easy way of the world, for it leads to death (Mat 7:13). May we do well therefore, to live our lives according to the call of God for us. Amen