The need for vigilance

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

As we have been doing for ages now, come the eve of All Souls Day (Friday last week), we as entire families trooped to the cemetery again to pay our respects to our dear departed as well as pray for their eternal repose. Implied in this practice is our belief in a life after death, that after our death we will appear before the judgment seat of God.

In the second reading (1Th. 4:13-18), we can sense the early Christians' raising of the following questions: Where are the dead? What has become of them? Shall we see them again? St. Paul responded by saying that we should "not grieve like the rest who have no hope." Why? Because "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep." In other words, as Christians we live in hope because God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead and in the process made Him our Savior. Moreover, He has also made known that Jesus will come again at the end time as our Judge. Not knowing the day nor the hour when this will take place, we are asked to be constantly vigilant, to be always prepared for Jesus' final coming.

This attitude of constant vigilance is the message of the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Mt. 25: 1-13). The bride was at home, waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. Her friends, acting as her bridesmaids, were to meet the bridegroom when he came accompanied by his friends and then join in escorting the couple to the groom's house where the wedding feast would be celebrated.

The ten bridesmaids were classified into two: five foolish and five wise. The foolish ones brought only their torches while the sensible ones also brought extra oil with them. There was a delay in the bridegroom's arrival and they all fell asleep. Meanwhile, their torches gave out. When the bridegroom finally came, the wise ones refilled their torches with the extra oil and joined the entourage to the wedding feast while the foolish ones were still out looking for oil to buy.

The parable has three messages for us, namely,

For the early Christians, the years immediately following the resurrection of Jesus were tense ones. They were expecting the immediate return of Jesus as Judge. Some of them even stopped working thus forcing St. Paul to admonish them: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

It is in times like this that, like the ten bridesmaids, we may get drowsy and fall asleep, i.e., our faith may weaken and our hope wane. When we wake up, we may feel like the foolish bridesmaid who have brought no extra oil to refill their torches. Thus when the Groom, that is, Jesus arrives, we may not be ready to escort Him to the wedding feast. And when we follow later and knock at the door where the feast is held and cry, "Sir! Open the door for us!" the Groom will reply, "I do not know you" and will refuse us entrance.

We are asked instead to be like the wise bridesmaids: to be always vigilant, to always have the extra oil. To be vigilant is to be ready for what comes next. It can be compared to a student who studies his lessons regularly. When a surprise test is given, he is ready and passes it. On the other hand, the foolish bridesmaids are like the student who studies only when there is an announced test. When a surprise test is given, he is not prepared and thus fails. Finally, when the final examination comes and having no regular study habits, he crams and, more often than not, fails the course.

In this context, being vigilant means attending to the challenges of daily living -- its challenges, joys, heartaches, etc., -- with faith and hope. And to live in faith and hope, is to have that extra oil with us. It means that we are to persevere in living according to the teachings and examples of Jesus -- no matter what. Then when Jesus suddenly comes as Judge, we will be ready to face Him and thus enter into His feast, His Kingdom.

A story is told of an old and holy monk who was sweeping up the fallen leaves in the monastery grounds. A visitor saw him and asked, "What would you do, brother, if you knew that you were to die in ten minutes?" The old monk said, "I'd carry on sweeping."

Because the monk has always been vigilant, he is ready to meet His Judge anytime. We are asked to do the same so that when we stand before Jesus as our judge, He will to say to us, "Come, enter into my Kingdom."