An older lady entered the bank, approached the teller, handed her bank card to the teller, saying, “I would like to withdraw $10.” The teller told her, “For withdrawals less than $100, please use the ATM.” … The lady wanted to know why. The teller returned her bank card and irritably told her, “These are the rules, please leave if there is no further matter. There is a line of customers behind you.” … The lady remained silent for a few seconds and handed her card back to the teller and said, “Please help me withdraw all the money I have.” The teller was astonished when she checked the account balance. She nodded her head, leaned down and respectfully told her, “You have over $300,000 in your account but the bank doesn’t currently have that much cash. Could you make an appointment and come back again tomorrow?” … The lady then asked how much she could withdraw immediately. The teller told her any amount up to $3,000. “Well, please let me have $3,000 now.” The teller kindly handed $3,000. All friendly and with a pleasant smile…. The lady pulled a $10 bill from the stack, placed it in her purse, and then told the teller she would like to make a $2,990 deposit.
In this day and age it may seem a bit odd, but… I confess to not owning a TV set. If I want to watch a movie, I just pull one up on the computer. And if I want to get the news, I read it; however, while on vacation, I stayed in a hotel for a few nights and had access to all the television networks have to offer. It ain’t much and the news channels… not really news. When it was news, it was angry. There was no courtesy or respect. Everyone and everything was treated like that lady who only wanted $10 from her account: unless you can do something for me or are worth something, you serve no purpose and I’ve got no use for you. That’s a fairly sad state of affairs, but I believe we can do something about it, and our parable of the foolish bridesmaids help us to understand what that is.
To this day, a wedding celebration in the Middle-East can take quite some time. Following the ceremony, the newlyweds go to different houses to receive well wishes and all, so you never really know exactly when they are going to arrive for the wedding feast. Everyone is accustomed to the wait, it’s just a part of the celebration.
In the parable, we have ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the couple to arrive and, while they wait, they fall asleep. Later, the cry comes out: the couple is on the way, but when the bridesmaids wake up, five have run out of oil for their lamps. No proper woman is going out in the dark without a lamp, so the five ask the ones who prepared for oil. There’s not enough to go around, so the five send off the “foolish” bridesmaids to find more oil for themselves (exactly where they will find oil in the middle of the night is not addressed, but it is an issue). Finally, the foolish five arrive, knock on the door, only to be turned away by the groom: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” From this, we understand the need to be prepared for the return of the Church’s groom: Jesus.
That is perhaps the more traditional view of the parable and it is true. N.T. Wright points out that many give meaning to the oil, but he believes that is an incorrect interpretation, so… well, he’s probably not going to like my take on the parable either, but it is not likely he’ll be clamoring for a copy.
As I was praying a rosary and meditating on this, I kept coming back to the oil, not for itself, but what it meant to run out. If those bridesmaids had no oil, they had no light. And everybody says, “Duh.” But we know that light is one of the most important images in Holy Scripture. “God is light.” “I am the light of the world.” Yet, the imagery of light does not only speak of God, it speaks of how God gives us this light, as the Psalmist tells us, “It is [God] who lights my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” So, just as he illumined the wilderness as a pillar of fire when the Israelites wandered in the desert, God gives us light that we might see, and as the Apostle John teaches us, that we may be one: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
God is light, we are to walk in this light, but then we are to reflect this light. Saint Paul: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Our lady at the bank demonstrates to us that many have grown callous and uncaring, rude and disrespectful. I told you that what I saw on the news portrayed a sad state of affairs. Why? The darkness will never overcome the light, the evil will never overcome good: God wins, but right now, the lamp of this world is low on oil and the flame is flickering dimly. God is doing His part and we must do ours. We can do something about it.
Those of you who are friends with Jean McCollough on Facebook know that she is posting something all the time. You don’t really see anyone else’s posts because Jean puts so much out there… actually it’s just the opposite, so when I came a cross something she felt needed to be shared, I stopped and read it. It was the story of Irena Sendler who died on May 12, 2008 in Warsaw, Poland at the age of 98.
She was a Roman Catholic and a part of the the Polish underground during WWII. Aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, she knew she had to help, so she got a job as a plumbing / sewer specialist, which allowed her free access in and out. In her comings and goings, she smuggled out babies in the bottom of her tool box and she had a burlap sack that she used for larger children. She also had a dog in the back of the truck. The dog was trained to bark at Nazi soldiers, which served two purposes: it masked the sounds of a crying baby or child and if a soldier got too close, the fierceness of the dog discouraged them.
With such a plan, you would think that she might have been able to get out a few dozen children, but before she was caught, she managed to smuggle out some 2,500 infants and children.
When they caught her, they tortured her, breaking both her arms and legs. She managed to escape the death sentence she was given.
Having kept a record of the children and following the war, she attempted to reunite the families, but most of the parents had been murdered by the Germans. She worked tirelessly to find homes for the orphans.
The lamp of this world is low on oil and the flame is flickering dimly, but we can do something about it. How? One baby at a time in the bottom of a toolbox. By assisting the little lady make a $10 withdrawal, regardless of how much she’s worth. By defying a culture that is callous, uncaring, rude, and disrespectful. By discovering those things we hold in common and not always looking for just one more thing to divide us. By setting aside pettiness and our endless defensiveness. By showing and giving one another grace, knowing that none is perfect except One, and by recognizing the fact that we are not that One. By being who we were created to be: the light of the world. You can do these things, because where the lamp of the world may be dim, the light of Christ that guides you and that is in you is the noonday sun.
You can change the world… you can brighten the world, because “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
Let us pray: God of wisdom and love, you have sent your Son Jesus to be the light of the world, and continue to send your Holy Spirit among us to guide us into the way of truth. Open our hearts to your word and let us ponder your actions among us. Give us your Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, of understanding and counsel. With Mary, may we rejoice in your gifts, and walk in the way of truth and love. With all your people on earth and in eternity, we ask this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of your loving Spirit, one holy God, for ever and ever. Amen!