1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
After the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, there were many who believed that they would see His Second Coming during their own lifetime. As the Lord said, they would not know the day or the hour. Yet many disciples of the Lord, including some of the Apostles, seemed, at least at first, to believe that Christ would not be long in returning to bring about the fulfillment of all creation. For this reason, they were zealous in carrying out the Lord’s commands. They underwent great trials and made incredible ground in a short period of time. And yet the Lord did not make His return in their lifetime, nor did He come in their century or even their millennium. As you well know, we are here nearly 2000 years later, still awaiting that Second Coming of Christ that many in the first days of the Church thought would happen within a matter of years or even months.
We all know that old joke that says, “Jesus is coming, everyone look busy!” But I think that in joking about it we can easily forget the reality that it actually may happen at any moment. Being so far removed from the time of Christ’s earthly life puts us at a certain disadvantage because it’s easier now to be confident that we’ve got a long life ahead of us and we’ve got time to do what we want and get right with God later. Even as I was preparing this homily I was thinking of what to preach in the coming weeks in light of this weekend’s readings – we all assume that we have tons of time, which we may well have. But the thing is that when we get comfortable, we can begin to slack up on our efforts to grow in faith and holiness. That’s what we see in our Gospel passage today. Let’s look again.
We start with the ten virgins with lamps waiting for the bridegroom. The Early Church Father tell us that the lamp here is used as a symbol of faith, marking one who has been enlightened through the Sacrament of Baptism and now walks with faith in Our Lord. The virgins with lamps, then, are symbolic of the Christian community. The Letter of St. James in the scriptures tells us that faith without works is dead, and so we see that the oil that keeps the lamps burning – that keeps faith alive in the soul and merits salvation – is symbolic of works of charity.
The wise virgins entered the banquet because they had extra oil that lasted until the coming of the bridegroom. They were not content with a minimal amount, but sought out extra oil beforehand and were prepared for the long wait. These are the souls of men and women who do not content themselves with the minimal requirements of salvation, but rather strive for holiness by doing much more than what is required in the way of charity and self-sacrifice. Not presuming upon their time here on Earth, they strive to work out their salvation zealously each day.
In contrast we have the foolish virgins who are not able to enter the banquet because the amount of oil they thought was sufficient was in fact not enough, and so they are left rushing at the last minute searching for some, only to find it was too late. These are the souls of men and women who are comfortable with things as they are and content themselves with doing only what they deem necessary, thinking it will be enough to, as one of my seminary professors so eloquently put it, barely flop over the line into purgatory and eventually get into Heaven. These are the ones who presume upon their salvation and are turned away because their presumption keeps them from being charitable, which is the basic requirement for the attainment of salvation.
As we draw closer to the end of this liturgical year and we hear more about the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – the challenge is for us to look at ourselves and see how we measure up. Surely we have our lamps of faith. The question is, do we have our oil?