Most Americans will die a peaceful death. Compared with much of the world, we are very blessed because the chances are remote that we will meet a violent or dramatic end. Even so, the drama and violence of the recent shootings in Washington remind us of the fragile and temporary nature of life in this world. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt 25: 1-13), Our Lord wants to remind us of exactly the same point: that we "know not the day or the hour" as He says, when we will see Him face to face. In the verses preceding this parable, St. Matthew records the disciples asking Christ, "What will be the sign of your coming?" (24:3) And Jesus' reply includes the message that the very nature of that coming is to be, from a human perspective, sudden and unexpected.
But the grace of Baptism gives us something more than a human perspective on which to rely. The lamps carried by the virgins in the parable represent the illumination or enlightenment our souls receive at Baptism. That illumination, which we call grace, expands or lengthens our field of view beyond the here and now by giving us a glimpse of eternity. In other words, the serious disciples of Christ remains "on the look out" for the Lord because he knows through faith that he has been promised a vast inheritance. St. Paul writes that though our vision is not perfect in this regard, our hope is rich: "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him." (I Cor 2:9)
So, although we lack precise information about the "when" and the "what" concerning our future, we do have perfect knowledge about one thing. And that is that Our Lord expects us to be vigilant. Jesus often emphasized the importance of vigilance, in His parables, for instance, and when He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, and just prior to his death when He scolded St Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? (Mk 14:34) In like manner, St. Paul warns us through his first letter to the Thessalonians, " So let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober." (5:6)
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Our Lord indicates that the groom - who is a figure of Christ - arrives at midnight, a time given to drowsiness. Now evidently, Jesus wants us to realize that to be drowsy, i.e. to fail to be vigilant or watchful, is to fail in an essential Christian obligation. This parable is the next to last parable in St. Matthew's gospel, and what follows it is the story of Christ's passion. So here, among Our Lord's final teaching, we find an urgent message: "Be vigilant, be watchful.. Remember why you were created." It is as though Christ were saying to us, "Remember always that I put you on earth to declare by your conduct where it is that you wish to spend eternity. So stay awake and be ready to meet me, even as I prepare: to meet you."
But there is more to be said about this parable. Why does the bridegroom, Christ, delay his coming? We can only attribute this "delay" to God's gracious mercy. In his second letter, St. Peter writes, "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."(3 :9)
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