Matthew 25: 1-13
In chapters 24 and 25, which precede the Passion story, Matthew describes the end of the world and offers various parables about the need to be vigilant lest one be unprepared (and thus lost) when the final cataclysm occurs.
In the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five foolish, the theme of vigilance is presented in the scenario of a wedding feast. It is not clear just what the role of these young women was, nor is that important for the meaning of the story. The point is that five of them did not have the foresight to prepare for a longer wait than expected so that, as they tried to correct their mistake, they were left behind.
The bridegroom of the parable is Jesus, and his coming occurs at the end of the world, either universally or at each person’s death. For no one really misses the end of the world. Since our death seems remote during most of our lives, we are tempted to forget about being ready for the Lord at the end. This can be tragic if the record of our lives is not fit to be presented to the Lord when he comes, for in that case we will, like the foolish virgins, be left outside the wedding banquet of heaven.
The words of Jesus at the end of this parable summarize the challenge that we ought to recognize in this gospel passage: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13). Keeping awake and having our lamps lit have the same meaning, namely, that we must be aware that we will eventually need to give an account for the way in which we have lived.
From the perspective of secular philosophy, which permeates every aspect of our society, the end of life is simply the end of everything. In such a situation, it makes sense to be interested primarily in acquiring power and using it for one’s own purposes. If the teaching of Jesus is trustworthy, however, such a program of life will lead to an unhappy surprise at the end. In fact, someone has made the wise observation that, for the selfish person, hell will be a room of mirrors in which one will be forced to see only oneself…for eternity!
By contrast, those who strive to live unselfishly, having invested their lives generously in the interests of others, will become members of a heavenly community of peace and joy. Being vigilant, and therefore aware of one’s responsibility before God, will also lead to kindness and compassion in all circumstances.
Another important way to be vigilant in this life is to make time in our busy schedules for personal prayer. In this way, we will be reminded of our true purpose in life and be encouraged to live in a thoughtful and generous manner. Thus, when Jesus at Gethsemane told his disciples to “watch and pray” (Matt 26:41), he was urging them to make room for God in their lives so that they, life himself, could say at the end, “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.