Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus told this parable to the disciples: The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible; the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.” But they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.” They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. “Lord, Lord,” they said “open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.” So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’
The sensible bridesmaids were planners. They foresaw the possibility that the bridegroom might be late and that they might need more oil than they could carry in their lamps alone. But like the foolish ones they fell asleep “on duty” while waiting for the bridegroom, so they were not perfect even though they are described as sensible.
The real problem for the foolish bridesmaids was not that they didn’t take enough oil, but that they fell asleep. If they had stayed awake they would have realized their oil was getting low, and they could have got some more before the bridegroom arrived. If they hadn’t fallen asleep their mistake in not bringing enough oil could have been corrected.
At the end of the parable Jesus tells us to “stay awake” rather than telling us to “be prepared – bring enough oil”. Making mistakes is normal and human; being oblivious to our mistakes creates problems for ourselves and others. Jesus asks us to be aware so that we might correct our mistakes, especially those which undermine our relationship with him or with others.
The foolish bridesmaids tried to counteract their mistakes by demanding oil from the sensible bridesmaids. They did this without any admission that they had made mistakes in not bringing enough oil and falling asleep. They demanded that the sensible bridesmaids compensate for their mistake.
It can be so hard to admit that we made a mistake. If we do, then often others will respond positively and the way is opened to overcome the mistake. The act of admitting a mistake can restore relationships and allow a new start. Demands that others compensate for our mistakes creates further barriers.
Humility shows us the way out of our mistakes. It is humility that gives us the self-awareness which enables us to recognize our mistakes - which enables us to “stay awake” to our own very human failings and their consequences. It is humility that helps us to admit our mistakes and to correct them.
Humility is like the oil in the lamps of the bridesmaids, a flame which reveals the presence of the bridegroom. Humility is the oil that the foolish bridesmaids didn’t have and which the sensible ones could not give them.
Humility is a virtue which grows out of prayer and closeness to Jesus.