Matthew 25:1-13 | 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Of Empty Shelves and Leaky Roofs
The first time I went to the grocery after we went into lockdown, I took a picture of the empty toilet paper aisle. Nothing. Seeing it was astounding. I tend to buy what we need when we need it, but as quarantine wore on, even I started stocking up. One week, no red wine vinegar. The next time it was in stock, I bought four bottles—just in case. Last week, I tucked several jars of curry powder in the back of the cupboard—the last time it had been in the store was July.
Was this what Jesus was trying to tell us in the Parable of the Ten Virgins? Hoard our oil so when Jesus comes again, only we can see Him? After all, the “wise virgins” wouldn’t share their oil, an act that sent the “foolish virgins” into a tailspin (vs. 9-10). Perhaps it’s the wise ones who bought all the toilet paper in March too.
Except I don’t think the oil the wise virgins have equates to the quantity of goods in their pantries. I think their oil is the care they have taken in preparing for the Bridegroom’s arrival. Both sets of virgins have lamps. After all, when it’s time, everyone gets up quickly and trims their wicks—the exteriors of all the lamps were shiny; the wicks were primed. But only the wise virgins have what it takes to fuel that light. Only they have taken care of what is most critical.
This parable is another in the series of zingers Jesus delivers in an attempt to get the religious leaders to see that our exterior can look just fine while the interior echoes empty. It’s a bit like shopping for a house—just because the paint is fresh doesn’t mean that come a rain storm, the roof won’t leak.
The care we take of our inner selves is just as, if not more, important as the care we take with our physical appearance. As Jesus tells us again and again, the inner self lights up the outer. We think we can hide our lack with makeup (or good deeds), but we can’t. Good or bad, eventual the inner shines through. And if it’s not there, the emptiness will become obvious too.
That free will deal God made with us? That means our inner selves are our responsibility. Yes, He wants us to “preach the gospel to all nations” (Mark 16:15), but, once preached to, whether the gospel becomes part of who we are, that’s our choice. It’s up to us to make sure we replenish the oil necessary to light the lamp.
Unlike toilet paper, red wine vinegar, or curry powder, that oil, is a fuel that can’t be shared or hoarded. It can only be stoked and tended—like fire. Properly attended to, it will reflect the Light of the World. Ignored and forgotten, it will illuminate a barrenness of soul, a gaping hole far more painful than the bare shelves of a grocery store in the middle of a pandemic.