"Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep." (Mt 25:5)
Today’s gospel has a very consoling verse for people like me and many older people. Matthew writes that the ten virgins "all became drowsy and fell asleep.” Since I am an early to bed person, the thought of staying up very late waiting for “the bridegroom” to arrive and then dragging myself to a wedding banquet is not something I would look forward to. Clearly the issue in this parable is not falling asleep; we all do that when we are tired. Rather, the Lord wants us to be prepared with enough oil for our lamps to accompany the bridegroom to the banquet whenever he arrives.
Being ready to serve God at all times is a constant theme of Matthew’s gospel, especially in its final chapters. Jesus, as he did in yesterday’s gospel, reminds us to stay awake, to be alert, and today he uses the parable of the ten virgins as a reminder for us to be prepared to meet the Lord every day, not just as a preparation for death, but in order to live the gospel fully.
Nevertheless, being prepared for the Lord, especially when we are tired and anxious, can be tedious and boring. It means doing the same thing day after day, often with little consolation. Perhaps that is why Rabbi David Kimchi, a late 12th century Jewish scholar, recorded this lovely story about the great sage, Rabbi Eliezer. "Turn to God one day before your death." Rabbi Eliezer said. But his disciples responded, "How can a man know the day of his death?" Eliezer answered them, "Therefore you should turn to God today, perhaps you may die tomorrow; thus every day will be employed in returning." Kimchi on Isaiah 65:13.
Turning to God today in prayer and gratitude for all the gifts of creation and faith is one way we store “oil” so that even when we fall asleep, we will ready to greet the Lord with light and joy whenever he comes. Mahatma Ghandi was reputed to have said, “If you do not find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking further.” When we pray fervently and school ourselves in gratitude, we can be sure that we will recognize the Christ in every person, even our enemies.
Though the challenge of always being prepared can seem daunting, even overwhelming, we should not be afraid. Though all of us will regularly fail at living a full gospel life, if we have prepared ourselves for the inevitable breakdowns in our commitment, God will be waiting to greet us when we wake up again. Pray and be grateful each day for the gift of faith. Christ will do the rest.