In our first reading from the book of Wisdom God invites Solomon to ask for any gift he wants – and he asks for wisdom! – Wisdom to run his kingdom.
Would you have thought of asking for something like that?
Lord, I need good looks, I want to be popular, or I do have a huge mortgage Lord, and those credit card bills, and then, of course, my health problems, my kids, and I would like a good vacation – but no, Lord, I know what I want – give me wisdom.’
We thrill at the compelling image, which emerges from the heart of the first reading, of wisdom energetically roaming the streets searching for those who are searching for her.
Those who want Wisdom:
love her, look for her, desire her, watch for her, think about her, are on the alert for her, are worthy of her.
It’s pretty obvious that these people really do value wisdom because the search for her seems to preoccupy them.
is bright, is readily seen, is readily found, is quick to anticipate, makes herself known, is sitting at your gates, walks about looking for those who are worthy of her,
graciously shows herself, comes to meet [those who seek her]
What does all this tell us?
We obtain wisdom by wanting her.
Those who want wisdom go looking for her.
What is wisdom? What good is wisdom?
Wisdom is a gift of God.
Wisdom helps us ‘understand’ God, ourselves, others, and the world.
Wisdom helps us to make the right choices.
Wisdom allows us to see things the way God sees them.
Wisdom is ‘understanding fully grown’.
Wisdom is a sharing in the thinking of God. [The wise person thinks like God.]
Wisdom brings us closer to God and makes us more pleasing to God.
Wisdom makes us better at teaching others.
Wisdom leads us to heaven; it keeps us ‘awake’ to God.
Wisdom ensures that we are on the right side of the door when it shuts.
There are five words in the Gospel today, which present us with a very simple image of the most critical moment in all human destiny.
Those five words are: …and the door was closed.
The image is simple enough – a closed door.
That door is the most important door in the whole of existence; it is the door to the wedding banquet, to the Kingdom of God – the door to heaven.
But this image of a door is also the image of a decisive moment: Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall.
We may wonder, does the door of heaven make a noise when it closes? Does it close with a thunderous, frightening, once-and-for-all bang? And, if heaven is a place of light and joy, when the door closed did it leave all those on the other side in darkness and in deep silence? We can only wonder.
The whole purpose of the parable is to get us thinking about the choices we make during our life which prepare us for that moment when the door closes – wise choices which will make sure that we are on the right side of the door. Surely one of the lessons of this Gospel is that once the door is shut, it won’t be opened again, for anyone.
It’s interesting that most of us think of heaven as a place but when Jesus began his public ministry he said, ‘The reign (kingdom) of God is near at hand. Repent.
‘ So it’s rather something that we enter into, a relationship in which we hand our lives over to the rule of Jesus. This being the case we can say the bridesmaids were invited into a relationship rather than just a place.
So why bridesmaids? Why not bricklayers or goat herders? It’s really because God’s preferred image for the love he has for his People is marriage – the love of a groom for his bride. All through the Scriptures we find evidence of this – from Adam and Eve (be fruitful, multiply) to the marriage feast at Cana.
And then again, bridesmaids have a purpose, they serve the groom. It is their vocation, their identity, and their destiny. They light the way for the groom and enter with him into the wedding banquet. That is who they are.
And there is yet another comment we can make about the bridesmaids. If we go to the trouble of trying to picture them in our mind’s eye we would probably see ten equally beautifully dressed and made up young ladies, ten equally attractive bridesmaids.
But this can be a trap. Appearances can be deceiving and God knows it.
That is probably why the bridegroom was late. He actually intended to be late. He knew that time is a great revealer. Time unmasks appearance and uncovers the inner, hidden truth. If he had come too early he would never have known who loved him and who didn’t.
The bridesmaids lamps can represent many things – faithfulness, love, service, strength, and so on – but perhaps it might be easiest to say that their lamps represent relationship, their relationship with the groom.
Therefore we can easily see why it was impossible for the five wise bridesmaids to help the five foolish ones. You can’t share a relationship. You can’t share your integrity or your faithfulness. These things can only be developed one to one – beloved to beloved.
I remember a man who used to tell me his wife prays for him, in the sense that his wife does his praying for him. Not possible. We can’t ‘outsource’ our relationship with God.
The sad fact of the matter was that the five foolish bridesmaids had lost their relationship with the bridegroom. He took too long. Their lamps had gone out! And that’s why he later said: I do not know you.
Once our lamp has gone out, once our relationship with God had dried up it’s no good saying that our lamps used to be lit. I used to go to Mass; I used to be an altar boy; I used to go to Confession; I used to pray. Our lamps must not go out.
And who is the groom? Not a difficult question; it is Jesus Christ. And the bridesmaids; that would be us, you and me.
With his arrival there is great consternation among the five foolish bridesmaids and great peace and joy among the five wise bridesmaids. They ‘went in’ with the groom while the other five went ‘out’ to buy the oil which they actually no longer needed. Then, while they are still bewildered at their misfortune – the door was closed. Did it make a bang, or was it silent? Either way it was an irreversible tragedy.
I know of no better description of hell than this closed door with those five bridesmaids on the wrong side of it – for eternity. No banquet, no love, no joy – for eternity.
I don’t know if there really is a door but I do know there really will be such a moment, such a moment of truth; I pray that when it comes, we may all find ourselves together in the wedding hall.