Being prepared can be a healthy way to live in the present moment or an unhealthy way to be fixated about the future. In the parable shared with us on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, there is a lesson about being ready in the present moment. Some reflection on this parable might help us each live more deeply in this current time, rather than worrying about the future.
The attendants who were waiting for the bridegroom had a job to do. It was their job to be ready whenever the bridegroom showed up so that they could go with him into the wedding feast. So many of us worry about an anticipated misfortune, and thus we fail to keep our eyes on the present moment. It seems to be that way with those who were supposed to accompany the bridegroom. Some of them carried enough oil with them; they would be ready whenever the bridegroom came. The others seemed to anticipate when the bridegroom would come in the future, rather than doing what they needed to do in the present.
This parable is supposed to be about the kingdom of God. How are we to learn from this parable, and what is the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us?
Imagine living in Jesus’ time, when He was offering this sort of parable to His disciples. Some developments were beginning to create tension between the leaders of the time and Jesus. Jesus was probably concerned with how His disciples would act not only in the near future, but also in the distant future. The lesson of this parable was for the disciples of His time as well as for us.
Scripture is pretty clear in warning those of us who live in comfortable situations and are used to predicting life. In the midst of convenience, it is easier to dismiss the immediacy and urgency of Jesus’ messages. We always think we will have tomorrow to do what should be done today. When Jesus talks about taking care of widows and orphans, we can easily dismiss that call to discipleship for another day. When Jesus asks us to make peace with our enemies, we can become discouraged by current conflicts, and we use that as an excuse against seeking peace. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us, we all too often excuse ourselves easily from that immediate command of today.
Can you imagine what might have kept some of the wedding attendants from bringing the oil they needed to await the bridegroom? Some of them might have thought they had figured out the timetable. Did that ever happened to you, when you put a limit on the expectations of the commands of Jesus? Have you ever thought that forgiving seven times is all that is expected of you rather than 77 times? Have you ever felt the urge to easily dismiss one or more of Jesus’ teachings simply because you thought it was outdated or unrealistic? Did you consciously admit that you believed that your wisdom was better than His?
The Thanksgiving holiday is approaching. Each of us will have many opportunities to share food with the hungry and warm clothing with the naked. We might even give in to the temptation to overindulge when we could be sharing the excess with those who are hungry. But maybe we believe that the time has run out on those words of teaching that Jesus has left for us. Maybe we have run out of oil that allows us to faithfully anticipate the coming of the bridegroom.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.