The Lamp of Love
[Wis.6:12-16; 1Thess.4:13-17; Mt.25:1-13]
‘A wise person,’ someone once said, ‘has a big heart, a curious brain and open ears.’
But what is wisdom? Essentially, it’s intelligence combined with deep understanding. It’s also something that takes a lifetime to acquire, because it only comes with age, experience and maturity.
Wisdom is greatly prized all around the world. Why? Because it provides a lamp for our steps. That’s especially important in this age of information overload, because wisdom helps us see the big picture. It helps us to understand what really matters, and then to make sound choices and decisions.
The Bible often speaks of wisdom, and describes it as ‘better than gold’ (Prov.16:16). It also distinguishes between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom (Jas.3:13-18; 1Cor.3:19).
Worldly wisdom sees things from the human perspective (Mt.16:23). It exalts the self above others, it tends to be opinionated and it can lead to selfishness, jealousy and pride.
Godly wisdom is different, however. It lets us see things from God’s point of view. It’s marked by humility, mercy and love, and it’s peace-loving, gentle and sincere. And because God is the source and cause of all things, Godly wisdom reflects truth.
Our world is full of ideologies and sayings that often sound like great wisdom. They might help some people, however they tend to lead us away from God. As the Book of Proverbs says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Prov.14:12).
Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, in Matthew’s Gospel today, is essentially about wisdom. But let’s begin with some background to the story.
In ancient Hebrew tradition, when a couple married, they didn’t go on honeymoon; they stayed at home. The bride and her bridesmaids waited at the bride’s home for the groom and his entourage to arrive, and he typically arrived in the evening, after sunset. Then they all went off singing and dancing to his home for a big wedding celebration.
In this parable, the groom is delayed for some reason and he and his friends arrive very late at the bride’s home. By this time, all ten bridesmaids have fallen asleep and their lamps have gone out.
This isn’t a problem for the five wise bridesmaids, because they are well prepared with extra oil. They wake up, they refill their lamps and they’re ready to go.
The other five bridesmaids, however, have been wasting their time. They aren’t prepared and have run out of oil. They set off to buy some and by the time they return they’ve missed the celebrations.
The parable then ends with the warning: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’
This parable is essentially about Christ’s Second Coming, which St Paul in our second reading reminds us is sure to happen one day. Jesus is the bridegroom, and we are the waiting bridesmaids.
The roots of this theme of Jesus as the bridegroom can be found in the Old Testament. You may recall that in Isaiah, God is called the bridegroom of Israel (Is.54:5-8), and this image is reflected in Solomon’s Song of Songs. As well, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as ‘the bridegroom’ (Mt.9:35).
What this story presents is two very different attitudes towards the coming of Christ. For those who are wise, this event is much too important to miss and they make sure they are ready.
But for those who are foolish, Jesus’ coming really isn’t of much concern. Their casual approach, however, means that they miss out on the festivities.
The question for us today, then, is this: are we to be counted among the wise or the foolish?
The lamps Jesus speaks of in this parable are lamps of love. Are we wise enough to keep our lamps burning brightly for when Jesus arrives? Or are we too distracted by other things? ‘Everyone will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another,’ Jesus says in John 13:35.
Wise disciples of Jesus will tend their lamps with special care. But how do we keep our lamps of love burning? Through a continuous input of small drops of oil.
And what are these drops of oil? They are the small things we do with great love for others each day: little words of kindness, thoughtful gestures of service and simply being a healing presence.
These are the drops of wisdom that feed the lamp of love in our hearts.