In the weeks just before Advent, as the church year draws to a close, we hear stories of the ending of the age and warnings for the unprepared. One that always rattles my soul is Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins (unmarried women).
They are bridesmaids or torchbearers who are to light the procession into the wedding. But the Bridegroom is delayed and in the long night wait, their lamps begin to go out. The wise virgins have brought extra oil for just this moment, and the foolish bridesmaids, who have no back-up, beg their sisters to loan them some oil. But they refuse, saying they have only enough for their own lamps. Midnight, and the Bridegroom appears, and the five wise sisters lead the procession into the hall and the door is closed. Bolted. The foolish virgins are shut out.
Everything in me wants to hate this parable. I don’t like it when people are shut out of the banquet symbolizing God’s radiant presence. Worse, how come those “wise” sisters refuse to share their oil? If this is a parable of the kingdom, as Jesus says, wouldn’t sharing be rewarded?
I love Will Smith, despite the infamous slap. I can’t help it, I love “Men in Black” too much. But a few years ago I saw Will Smith speak about his life and work. “A dude screamed to me the other night, ‘Hey Will, I want to be an actor, man. I want to be an actor just like you.’ But I was just sitting there thinking, and it dawned on me, 99 percent of the people who say stuff like that are not willing to do what it takes to make their dreams come true. The Marines have a saying, ‘Everyone want to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.’” And he went on to speak about the sacrifices and discipline it takes to live and work at the highest level, and how you can’t just give that to someone else.
To prepare for union with God—no one can do that inner work for you or for me.