“Is now a good time?” “Did I catch you at a good time?” “Are you busy?” The phone rings and the caller says: “Can you take a call now?” Surely I am not the only one who experiences these kinds of happenings. Some may call them “distractions” or “interruptions.” They may come in the form of phone calls, emails, text messages, a “I’ve just got a quick question” kind of pop-in visitor from down the hall, or even, an unexpected guest at the monastery (yes, even in these days). It always seems to happen when you’re on a roll with your “important” work. Like when you have a deadline to meet, or you’re finally able to cross something off your old “to do” list, or just when you thought you could take a break. But … we all know what St. Benedict says about guests – they are always present in monasteries, you can’t predict when they may appear, they are to be welcomed in whatever state they arrive and greeted with: “A shout – THANKS BE TO GOD!” [Not, Oh, God, not her again!]
Maybe you’ve heard the tale about the day the Prince of Wales dropped in on a workingman’s family. The next day the man told his friends, “I never expected him, nor did my wife. The house was so untidy, and I hadn’t washed up yet. We can never forgive ourselves. If we had known he was coming, we should have been ready for him.”
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church movement, was asked what he would do if he knew his Lord would return at same time the next day. He said in effect, “I would go to bed and go to sleep; wake up in the morning, and go on with my work, for I would want the Lord to find me doing what I was appointed to do.”
Or how about the busy couple who had grown increasingly frustrated by a stranger who kept popping up unannounced at their home. It was always when they seemed to be the most busy. The visitor never asked for anything, she’d just drop by to say hello, pet the cat who lazed on the front porch and share a little chit-chat. One day the woman of the house was home alone when this happened. In exasperation she blurted out, “The trouble with Christ is, he always comes at the wrong time.” Or, perhaps – it’s perfect timing???
You may ask: What’s does all this have to do with the Parable of the Ten Virgins? So who are these virgins? [We’ve seen “Fiddler on the Roof” so we think we know all about Jewish weddings.] What we really do know is, from Jewish culture, that a wedding celebration was for the whole town. One of the acts of entertainment was to have ten virgins perform a wedding dance. They would hold lamps or lighted torches and perform a torch-dance. It would symbolize the light of the newly wed couple’s love and the bright future they had together. The dancers would entertain until their torches burned out.
This is who the parable is about. These dancing virgins. [Today we’d say “bridesmaids.”] Remember, this is a parable – so each member of the parable represents someone or something in real life. In such parables, the bridegroom is always Christ. Though the bride is not actually mentioned in this parable, every bridegroom must have a bride. The bride is a symbol of the church. And the church is made up of people. After the Wedding Ceremony and then the Wedding Supper the bride and groom would go out into the city and invite the people to join them in celebrating their wedding. [Remember a couple Sunday’s back, we had the parable of the wedding guests who thumbed their noses at the king’s invitation to his son’s wedding. Where did the king tell his servants to go to round up some guests – into the byways, the outskirts of the city.]
When the guests had gathered, this is when the torch-dance happened. The dance continued as long as one’s touch lasted… which could be up to a maximum of fifteen minutes. That explains why the wise virgins had a backup supply of oil. It wasn’t, as some might think, to keep a light burning the 6-8 hours that it took for the wedding ceremony and supper. During that time, they never knew when the bridegroom would come and give the signal for the entertainment to begin. That’s when they’d light those torches and when the first firing petered out you’d hear: “Come on, Girls, let’s re-soak these torches – keep this celebration going! It’s not over until it’s over – until the last torch flickers out.”
One more story. An acquaintance of mine was diagnosed with an incurable illness. A friend asked her what she was going to do with her life in her remaining days. She was thinking that her friend might go on a mission trip; she knew that was on her friend’s bucket list. The woman pondered a short time and then answered thoughtfully that she going to live her life as faithfully as possible for whatever time God granted her. …. I’m here to tell you, she’s still alive 20 years later.
Isn’t that how we all are to be prepared for the future? LIVE AS FAITHFULLY AS POSSIBLE. To be prepared with extra oil, yes … with prayer, faithfulness to lectio and the performance of good works? The Scriptures and St. Benedict remind us: Our guest, Christ, will come at an unexpected hour. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress