Since my childhood days till today, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, is always almost if not similarly delivered. Before I just listened and accepted what the preachers would like to convey to the hearers. Never I questioned nor argued what the priests, bishops, pastors and theologians shared. But of course I feel happy and inspired when the sermon seems less likely to focus and put some blame on the “five fools bridesmaids” who failed to bring extra oil for their lamps compared to the “five smart bridesmaids” who brought extra oil with them.
The focus of the gospel is about preparation for the second coming of our Lord, the fulfillment of God’s promise, aka: God’s Reign. Our response and our attitude to the invitation to participate in the salvation-process for the whole humanity may vary because no one knows when the time comes and we differ in our responses depending on our understanding of the needs. I had no question in this line of thought. The parable using numbers of how many fools or smart bridesmaids had responded to the invitation, waiting for the bridegroom is reflective, I would say, to our individual capacity to respond the call, to live out the service or in doing theological reflection. Much has been shared on this parable anyway.
As a priest, giving a sermon more than three times on this parable in the course of my almost five year church assignment is never fun. Should you have a very observant congregation in the parish who always listens to your sermons, records it and with a very sharp memory, who might be telling you, “Reverend, your sermon is always recycled” or to that effect, then the more it will never be fun to live with.
Last time, I had the same Gospel reading, I gave more focus on the preparation aspect of the invitation to participate in the salvation-process as individual, family, community, church and as a nation. The used of numbers like five foolish bridesmaids and five smart bridesmaids is symbolical to the numbers of Christians being called and who have differing responses; the use of women symbolizes the church as the Lord’s bridesmaid. Thus challenging the church to be fully awake because no one knows when the time will come where everybody will be accounted for as stated in the Bible: “Truly I tell you I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The element of preparing ourselves while waiting for the coming of our Lord for the fulfillment of God’s promise continues to challenge the churches to be an active participant to the invitation for the realization of God’s reign. Meaning, we are asked, we are reminded and we are challenged by the gospel message that we are all invited as co-participants/partners in establishing the promised God’s reign to its realization here on earth. That our participation is necessary and therefore we have no other reasons not to participate. By virtue of our baptism we are already registered or “IN” and we do not need any passport or any kind of permit.
However, in participating the salvation-process as our response to the invitation requires us more to be prepared. Meaning, we have to know what are the needed materials or things to take. Unlike the five foolish bridesmaids who missed to bring extra oil for their lamps, the five smart bridesmaids were really prepared to wait the coming of the bridegroom brought with them extra oil as projection for longer period of waiting because no one knew when the time or hour comes. In short, they failed to come with the bridegroom into the gate of the banquet hall because they were looking where to buy extra oil for their lamps. The parable accounts sided with the smart ones. Precisely, who wants to be identified with the five foolish ones.
Reflecting again the parable accounts, I begin to feel uncomfortable and a little bit confused. Why this particular parable needs to describe foolish and smart, comparing them and taking them separately? I see here comparison and competition. The five foolish and the five smart bridesmaids were pitied from each other. In effect, the hearers will hundred percent identified themselves with the five smart ones. Who will choose the five foolish bridesmaids then?
Re-reading the gospel accounts brings me to ask, “What was really in the mind of the writer in describing and comparing the foolish and the smart ones. What if those foolish fives could not really afford to buy more oil for their lamps but honestly and willingly they responded the invitation. That they really wanted to wait, meet and go with the bridegroom to the banquet hall which explains of their presence. If the promised reign of God is just, loving, giving and happy place to live; where there is no hunger and poverty but equality and mutual respect and abundance then there is something confusing with the parable accounts.
Thinking it loud, if I am to re-write or re-tell the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids I will say that instead of letting the five foolish go to buy some oil, the five smart ones would say: “Come, here are our oils, let us share them with you so that we can go together with the bridegroom, anyway, we were here together waiting for him to arrive. You do not need to leave and look outside for it is still dark. Save the little oil left in your lamps. Surely, our oils will be sufficient enough what matters most we will go together with the bridegroom”. And the ten bridesmaids went together with the bridegroom into the banquet hall. They went inside with more lights and they were all happy because they shared what they have and they valued their being together.
The act of sharing and caring are embedded, lived, experienced already even before the realization of God’s reign. With this in mind, it is nearer to the original intention of the gospel message responding to the invitation for the salvation-process, proactive. If this is how the parable accounts being presented, then the understanding of giving, sharing, and caring one’s needs will be very clear in the church ministry. There will be no more comparison, no more competition and no more difference but a sense of unity, collective support and fellowship. I do believe with this kind of mind-set, understanding, preparing and participating the salvation-process is more inclusive, shared and open to all. In other words, everyone will take care the needs of others and by so doing, the issue of hunger and poverty will be seen as a collective effort in addressing to its roots and working together to find a solution, an end to this widespread, worldwide phenomenon: hunger and poverty amidst abundance and extravagance.
When I was still a seminarian, Rev. Dr. Zabala reminded us that to be a priest is not only a “Bible person” as a common understanding of becoming a priest/pastor/minister or whatever we are called. I remember him saying that to be effective in your ministry, you have to carry the Bible in your right hand and the newspaper in your left hand. This really makes sense especially in today’s context. The Church always invites each one of us to partake in the Banquet of the Lord. Very good! But the invitation must be understood as participatory, in partnership, in mutual cooperation not just a simple invite where people have to queue and wait the priest/minister to put the bread/host into one’s tongue. No offense meant for those practicing this way. My understanding of the gospel message is reflective on how we acted on it. That is why when I am to write the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaid, there are no longer foolish nor smart ones because the five of them shared what they had to those five who were lacking. Meaning no one would be left behind but together they went inside the banquet hall; no one would be left out denied entry nor be rejected because they were extending help for those in need. The notion of helping, giving and caring for others is manifested in the parable, because the invitation to participate becomes inclusive. Therefore, there will be no more segregation for those who are willing, but allowed no entry because of their lacking, limitation or deficiency like the poor, the oppressed, the disabled, those looked down for their gender preference, the women, and all those not-acceptable in a society of non-equals, FOR THEY ARE ALL ALLOWED, ALL OF THEM TO ENTER. I want to believe that this is what the intention of the original text message. This is closer to the invitation song, sung during the mass, “Come let’s share in the bounty of the Lord, in the Blessed sacrament”.
The image of a banquet reflects that in God’s Reign. There will be no one child sleeps with an empty stomach, for food is abundance being shared together. Everybody is happy, filled and satisfied. There is love, joy and fellowship, and all is living in harmony, order and abundance. This is Shalom, God’s Reign.
Come, let us partake the banquet of the Lord,. Together we enter into the hall bringing with us our imperfections, limitation and deficiency with full trust in the Lord because God see us, all are equals. We will use our lamps together in order there will be more lights and the bridegroom will clearly see us, as we walk together with the Lord. No more foolish nor smart bridesmaids for we are one walking with the bridegroom, TOGETHER!.
And he said, “Truly, I tell you, I do know you.” Because you keep awake, therefore, you know the day or the hour (Re-writing Matthew 25:13).
God bless us all. Amen.