We are approaching the end of the liturgical year and the tone in the Gospel texts is stressing more and more that we must be ready and prepared for the second coming.
The parable we are given today about the wise and foolish bridesmaids puts this need for preparedness quite starkly.
One of the striking elements in the story is the refusal of the wise bridesmaids to share their oil with the foolish ones. First of all, we should note that it is not immediately obvious why these young women should need lamps. Why do they need them if they are merely going to a wedding banquet, it is not as if they are embarking on a long journey into the night.
But perhaps we ought to remember that this is a parable and therefore is not required to be strictly logical. It is a story which makes a point and, as with many other parables, what we might call the factual details are not considered to be important. A parable doesn’t have to be strictly logical or have to conform to actual practices or human customs.
What we need to look at is what the elements of the parable represent. The lamps surely represent the light of faith which is fed not by oil but by prayer and good works. This is why the wise bridesmaids cannot share their oil. The fruits of prayer and good words are not able to be shared, they can only strengthen one’s own faith.
Of course, our own strong faith can support and sustain the faith of other people but what is being stressed here is the fact that each one is responsible for nurturing their own faith. The shops which sell oil are closed and so the foolish girls are unable to obtain fresh supplies and so lose the opportunity to attend the wedding banquet.
This is another point of the parable; that the bridegroom comes only once and so we need to be very careful to be ready for his arrival. None of us knows the moment of our own death or when the second coming will be and so we need to be ready to meet the Lord at all times. The one thing we must not do is to lose the opportunity to meet the Lord and so miss our invitation into his Kingdom.
The fact that the bridegroom does not come till after midnight also does not correspond to normal practice. No normal wedding would have a feast that began after midnight. This late arrival, of course, is to stress that Christ’s second coming may not occur for many centuries. Christ comes at a time of his own choosing and we are unable to predict when this will be.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have put forward various predictions about when the end of the world will come. These have included the years 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918 and 1925. Then they predicted that Armageddon would come in 1975. Their leadership had to apologise when nothing dramatic happened.
No one knows when Christ will return but what all Christians do know is that we need to be ready for when he does come or when our death occurs, whichever comes first. This is going to be one of the important themes of the Advent season which is just around the corner.
Today is Remembrance Sunday when we call to mind all those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and in the many conflicts that have occurred since then.
Today after this mass we will cross the road to the Fire Station to keep the two minutes silence with the Fire Brigade. In 1940 an incendiary bomb landed on the Fire Station and six men were killed and a lot of the stained glass in our Church was blown out. It is appropriate that we remember those Fire Men but also all others, military and civilian, who have lost their lives in war.
I was listening to a radio programme recently which spoke about a new type of war that is now widely prevalent. The old form of war was generally composed of set-piece battles and conducted by the armies of particular nation states.
The new type of war that has grown up in the post-Cold War world is not based on countries or even ideologies. Often, they arise as a result of religious or ethnic differences. These wars are frequently conducted by shadowy groups and not by the traditional nation states and they are often financed by means of drugs or other illegal activities. Terrorism is an important element and civilians are often the main target. We see examples of this type of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and in Northern Nigeria.
Whatever type of war goes on, always the consequences are devastating for ordinary people. And we should do everything we can to achieve peace. However, we recognise that with this new type of war it is very hard to negotiate treaties. It is not always clear where the centre of power lies with a particular group and because the motivation for war is often religious or ethnic those who engage in it are often extremely fanatical and not open to negotiation.
New challenges are coming up all the time, so let us hope and pray that mankind will come to a good understanding of how to counteract these new forms of warfare and be successful in building up a more peaceful world.