25‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids*took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Live for today because you never know when your life will end. I have heard some version of this statement throughout my life, but the words sound too pessimistic, as if the end of life is the only thing we can look forward to. However, treating the end of life as our central goal is inconsistent with how life works. The truth is a person experiences many beginnings and endings throughout life.
One reality I have trouble accepting is the fact that I cannot see where the next journey will take me. Heck, I can’t even see what sort journey it is going to be. A human being can only see the present: it is as if we have been created blind to all future events.
The future is a vast unknown, and that would be scary enough, but the worst part of all is the waiting we have to endure between journeys. If you are project-oriented, then you may relate to what I am describing. You complete a major project, you feel confident that all of the tasks have been addressed, but there is not a new assignment anywhere in the horizon. Perhaps you have been in a job for a number of years and you are tired of that job. Perhaps you have just completed the coursework for a college degree but you have no idea what to do next. When I reach this stage of confusion I feel anxious, as if I am stuck in a forest without a map or a reliable GPS device.
Humans cannot see the future, but that does not mean we shouldn’t prepare ourselves. Whatever challenge awaits us in the future, we need to be mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared. Military images come to my mind. The most active groups within a military force do not stay docile when there is peace in the world. Instead, soldiers continue to train, warships continue to sail around the world, intelligence groups continue surveillance missions. In the same way the military must always be ready to act, we must always be ready for the challenges that await us in the future.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” Sometimes you know what challenges are in your future, but sometimes you do not. Even if you can’t imagine a reason to bring extra supplies with you, even if you see no need to start a regular exercise routine, even if devoting a half-hour each day to prayer and reflection seems pointless, it is a good idea to be prepared anyway.
That next project will come your way soon enough, and it may require a lot of energy. If you stay focused on God, the work will probably result in much good, but you will not give your best effort if you are not prepared. “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”