I’ve always been impressed how ready mothers usually are. When I was growing up, I thought my Mom was ready for about anything, from a paper cut to an almost broken bone, and it seemed to be true for everybody else’s moms as well. Even more impressive was my grandmother’s generation: they lived on farms with no phones, and if somebody wanted to visit anybody, they just showed up. They never knew how many people would be there for Sunday dinner, but they always had enough.
Mothers always taught us to share, unless maybe only children, and so the Gospel reading todays seems a bit odd: Jesus seems to be praising people who won’t share. A little background might be helpful.
Weddings in Jesus’ day were very different than ours: there were no halls to rent or wedding registry at stores. These were people who didn’t live by the clock and sometimes not even by the calendar. Getting people together could involve all kinds of potential hazards, so people were flexible. It’s like when priests visit outstations in the Third World today, when the priest shows up, everybody stops everything and they have Mass, no matter what day it is. So getting things together could take time and delays were entirely possible.
People also traveled by night. Jesus’ homeland is a desert, and on a warm summer night with a lot of moonshine, traveling at night made sense, particularly if you were traveling with a lot of people, which a groom going to a wedding would be. The party would start when he got there, no matter when that was. The wedding celebration would take several days any, so it’s not like people had to get up to work the next day.
The virgins in the Parable were likely between the ages of 10-12, since girls were usually married around the age of 13. They weren’t mature adults quite yet, even though they weren’t like children of the same age today. Some of them being prepared and some not seems like how things are today. They had to be ready for the bridegroom’s arrival at any time, and we understand why they’d fall asleep waiting. What is tougher to understand is why the wise ones wouldn’t share with the foolish ones. After all, there were no convenience stores open 24 hours at that time: the foolish virgins are going to have to wake up the merchants to sell them oil, and you can imagine how those guys are going to feel about it.
So why couldn’t they share? Maybe the oil stands for something else, something that couldn’t be shared?
In one sense we can share faith and in one way we can’t. Talking about faith can help us grow, we’re responsible for making our own faith grow, because it’s about who we are and what we believe. It would be nice to do a Vulcan mind meld and implant faith directly into someone else we think needs it, but that’s not possible. (I wouldn’t want to do a mind meld anyway, it would be far too scary to share consciousness like that.) It’s something we have to cultivate on our own, take ownership on our own, show on our own.
The first reading talks about Wisdom like a desirable woman, and I think seeking Wisdom is key to life as well as faith. God’s Wisdom isn’t some cold course of study, it is a warm, vibrant, intimate relationship, and we never know when or where we’ll find it. In some ways, it’s like the song “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific, it will be sitting across a crowded room, looking for us, summoning us into a loving gaze we can’t break. It is the best relationship we could have, a reciprocal passion of give and take that makes our lives worth living. It is an interchange that helps us grow and leads us to reach beyond ourselves, particularly to those in need.
Jesus calls us to be ready for Him. He also calls us to seek Wisdom, a warm, passionate lover who waits for us, who will make our searching worthwhile when we find her. Jesus puts this desire in our hearts as He becomes part of us in the Eucharist. We need to be ready for this love to enter our lives, because it will be better than we can imagine.