Jesus knew that being his follower was not going to be easy. Being a disciple implies that one has to make hard choices: we will not always get what we want; we may find ourselves at odds with others who do not share our values. It's not easy. It's not easy to do what needs to be done, to say what needs to be said, to work things out when it bothers us to compromise. And then it's not easy to wait. It's not easy to be out of control, without power. It's not easy to allow another, even God, to have the final word. And Jesus tells us: "Be prepared, stay awake, and be attentive - you don't know the day or the hour."
The Gospel story of the ten virgins is not about wedding customs or about charity or even about staying awake at night. Rather it is about being ready when Jesus comes, either in some one who needs our help, or at the time of death, or at the end of time. It is a parable of urgency, a parable which urges us not to waste the opportunities that are offered us. The crucial difference between the wise and foolish has to do not with staying awake but with having sufficient oil. Foreseeing that the bridegroom might delay, the wise bridesmaids brought flasks of oil, while the foolish neglected the task. And even though they all fell asleep waiting, only the wise had made the proper preparations. Discipleship involves more than simply joining the wedding party.
What does all of this mean for us? Are we supposed to live on the edge of eternity all the time? Are we meant to sit around with our bags packed, just waiting for the angel of death to knock on our door? There is nothing in the Gospel that would justify this mentality.
Jesus lived His life fully, celebrating each moment, each encounter, and each relationship with joy. He embraced human experience, drank deeply of human emotions, was nourished and comforted by human love. But He was always looking into the eyes of His Father. He was always conscious of the circle of His human existence, leading Him from God back to God.
Jesus never lost His sense of direction and purpose and in that sense He was prepared for whatever came. His love of the Father was integrated into all that He said and did and became. There was no event, no person, and no circumstance that ever separated Him from His Father.
This is how we are supposed to live our lives. Through it all, we are called to celebrate life with joy. We are to bear faithful witness to the Gospel by our lives of prayer, worship and unselfish love. We are pilgrims and not always perfect, but we are filled with hope by our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. We continually look ahead, assured that the same Lord who called this community into being over 2000 years ago - and who has sustained it by His constant care and providence - will lead us now and into the future, sanctifying us in the truth.
There is no one perfect style, no one method or mood that is appropriate to being a Christian. But there is, indeed, one absolutely essential element that all true Christians must share in common: keeping vigil with joyful hope. And so our response must be that of watchfulness, not in the sense of neglecting the duties to which our Christian life calls us, but to the extent that each day must be one of attentiveness, expectation and hope.
Wisdom is described in Scripture as the most perfect of all gifts. In the Old Testament, it is almost always synonymous with the Spirit of God. The first reading tells us that Wisdom is actually searching for us. It tells us that Wisdom can readily be perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her.
If together we keep vigil, wisdom - the greatest of gifts - will find us. If we maintain our focus in the midst of distraction, if we stay alert, and if we prepare our hearts: then wisdom will find us watching, and richly bless us.
Image: The Ten Virgins - Eugène Burnand