Today we hear about the Prophet Amos, who was called to prophecy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. From history we know that after the death of Solomon, the kingdoms were split up in two. The ten tribes of the north rejected the dynasty of David. They also rejected the worship of the Jerusalem temple. They set up their own places of worship. That is the setting that the Prophet Amos came into being. He was a farmer from the Southern Kingdom that was called away from his occupation to minister to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Like many people before and since, we might perhaps also going through the motions of worship? Did they really ‘seek good" and be close to God? Perhaps they felt that their religious exercises were enough, without adapting their lifestyle. But now their worship was under scrutiny. It was like Jesus says in the Gospel: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (Matthew 15:8). God says through Amos: “Take away the noise of your songs (psalms), for I will not hear the melody of your viols” (Amos 5:23). Worship is reduced to merely noise in the eyes of the LORD when our hearts are not right. God wants rather justice. “Rather let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). That is what it is all about. If we don’t live the way God wants us to live, then our worship is worthless. He wants us to be always expectant watching out for his coming in our lives. He is the bridegroom, and the Church is his bride. It is about relationship, a covenant. We are supposed to be on the same page as our God.
That brings us to today's Gospel. The refusal of the wise virgins to share may appear selfish. The answer might sound harsh. But here we are not talking really about lamps and oil but about people and life. We can learn from one another and be inspired by one another. The wedding banquet symbolizes eternal life in the New Testament. The traditional explanation is that the parable warns us that it is possible to exclude ourselves from the banquet of eternal life. It was only those who were ready, who went in with the bridegroom to the wedding hall. That might be true, but the Gospel leaves other questions for us. Like the question we started out with: “were the wise virgins selfish?” And were the foolish excluded by the wise virgins or by the groom? What is really the mistake of the foolish virgins? When you read the parable correctly you can see that all the bridesmaids fell asleep, even the wise, when they should have kept awake. But what would have happened, had the if the bridesmaids simply would have waited in the darkness of the night? That might be their mistake. They left, when it would have been better if they just stayed. I cannot imagine that the bridal couple would have rejected them. Would they really have been overconcerned about the oil in their lamps? I bet they would just been happy to see their friends waiting for them.
It would have taken some faith and courage to wait in frailty but it would have been the best thing to do. What is also clear in the parable is that the wise break up the bridal party and send if the foolish away in search for oil. Not the greatest advise. It would have been better if they would had encouraged them to stay. They went through the oil while all the rest were sleeping. The bridegroom would surely understand that. If we make this parable about exclusion that would be contrary on the gospel message of the gospel of radical inclusivity and compassion. Would we really believe that Jesus would turn someone away who gives the best they have? According the customs during the first century, the groom would have arrived at the wedding celebration with the bride. The bridesmaids would have been her friends and would be awaiting her return with the groom. Many scholars agree that the original parable likely included the bride and the bridegroom arriving late together. However, this would contradict the conventional understanding of the story.
In the end, Jesus says, those on their way to heaven will be decided by what they gave away, whether they fed the poor, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. Whether they shared what they had. Whether they shared their oil. The wise on earth had their wedding feast on earth. But that is not how it will be in the kingdom of heaven. So, if you find yourself feeling like the foolish bridesmaids, remember to wait in the darkness. Don’t run from it. It is a holy place and God will meet you there. The bottom line from the parable is to wait for the Lord and not walk away…even if your out of oil. Amen.