October 29, 2017
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
The text before us is perhaps the best known biblical illustration of what is commonly referred to as Murphy's Law.
Nonbiblical, contemporary examples abound. You've made arrangements to receive a call from a client on your cell phone at 3 p.m. and you've been taking calls all morning, but as 3 p.m. arrives, your battery goes dead, you don't have a charger and you miss the call.
Your 6-year-old kid has been rehearsing her part as a turkey for the Thanksgiving school play about the Pilgrims and the Indians. When you get to the performance, you take a couple shots, then the battery dies and you miss the shots you really wanted.
You're not going to be late to work, but to make it on time, the universe needs to cooperate. And, of course, it doesn't. You have a flat -- bad enough -- but then you discover that the spare is also flat. This all happens today because yesterday you told your boss you were late because you had a flat tire -- which you didn't. Now you do.
It's mid-evening and you're reading some trash novel, and your neighborhood has a blackout. Not to worry: You're a fanatic about preparedness. Semper fidelis is your mantra. You reach for the flashlight, which you store in the space below the kitchen sink, and push the switch. Then you remember that a flashlight is just a metal tube to store dead batteries.
It's Murphy's Law. The correct version goes thus: If anything can go wrong, it probably will. Notice "probably." That's not much comfort. You can get a slice of bread and examine it on both sides, but you cannot predict which side will land on the kitchen floor -- until you butter it. Then you know.
The good news is, if we know ML, then it's possible to invert it, because ML is part of the universe as well. Thus, if anything can go wrong, and probably will, then the law itself can go wrong. But to invert the law, certain things need to happen.
Some of the women of our text were aware that it's possible to invert ML, and they took steps to do so. Notice that none of these women went to the wedding reception unprepared. They all had oil in their lamps. In that respect, early in the evening, there was no noticeable difference between the wise five and the foolish five. Moreover, they all became weary and took a nap while waiting for the party to begin. The only difference between the women, unnoticed at first, is that some carried a spare vial of oil on their person just in case ML reared its ugly head.
Oil was as important then as now. Maybe the "foolish" girls didn't carry an extra cruse of oil because it was expensive; it was going for $4 a gallon. Who knows?
On a side note, oil is widely regarded in Scripture as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The implication is that without the Holy Spirit, our light fades and grows dim.
The five wise women carried an extra supply. When they refueled, recharged, renewed their light source, they turned to an extra resource outside of themselves to save the day. This is a reminder that we cannot expect that the resources we have in our "lamps" will be sufficient for all times and occasions. We must realize that in the ongoing experience of living in the world, the fuel will begin to run low. The question is: Are we carrying an external source of extra fuel? Do we know how, when our spirits grow dark, when the light seeps from our souls, to replenish the supply?
The wise women were in no mood to share their oil with the foolish women when the Bridegroom finally showed up. And who can blame them? They needed the oil reserves to take them through the rest of the evening, because at midnight, they were about to get their groove on! Their party hats were on and they'd need that oil to celebrate into the early hours of the morning.
That said, it should be different in the church. Or not.
Timothy Merrill, senior editor of Homiletics magazine, tells the story of running out of light while visiting with a family in Israel. One day, they -- two adults and two little kids -- went out to the bus stop below the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where they were staying and rode an Arab bus into Jerusalem. They got off at Jaffa Gate and then walked through the Armenian quarter to Zion Gate where one can still see the results of the Six-Day War in 1967 in the rocket-shelled walls. From there they walked along the walls and then down a hill toward the Kidron Valley to the Pool of Siloam. Here they began their hike through Hezekiah's Tunnel.
The bore is not more than 30 inches wide and the height varies from 10 feet to 5 feet in some places. When they walked through it, the water came up to their knees in places. They knew that at different points during the day, the water level rose considerably depending on what was happening in the spring that fed this channel. That concerned them somewhat.
"This is safe?" his wife asked the Palestinian sitting at a little wood table. The green paint was peeling off revealing bare wood beneath. From the table hung a sign with black letters on a white background. The words were written in Hebrew. The sign probably said, "This is safe." Who knows?
"Yes, yes, safe," he said, passing his hand over his unshaved chin. "Very safe. No problem." Merrill asked him how long it would take to walk through it.
"You walk twenty minutes. No problem," he said. Merrill gave him some money and he gave him four candles, one for each person, not more than a third-inch thick and about five inches long. These candles were to provide light for the 20 minutes it would take to slosh through Hezekiah's Tunnel.
The candles illuminated the tunnel for only a few feet. As they felt their way through the tunnel, they sometimes had to stoop slightly as the tunnel shaft was not high enough to accommodate their height. After 10 minutes of wading hunchbacked through the water, Merrill began to think this trip might take longer than 20 minutes. He decided to blow out his candle. Since he was the last one -- the youngest child, 7, went first, then his mother, followed by the older child, 10 -- he had no trouble following his wife and the boys without his candle lit. He rightly thought they might need his candle if the others' went out. After 15 minutes of sloshing through the tunnel, following its curves and bouncing against its cold sides, and ducking to avoid bumping their heads, he noticed that Jeanie, his wife, was getting a little edgy. "Are we there yet?"
Twenty minutes elapsed and they were still in the tunnel, with no indication that they were close to the end. Twenty-five minutes passed, 30 minutes, and now the candles were just about out. First one candle burnt out, then another. Thirty-five minutes. Merrill says, "Jeanie's candle was just about gone, and I was about to produce my candle when, at 40 minutes, we felt a rush of cool air and heard the sound of water flowing. This development energized our flagging spirits and we pressed on with fresh zeal. Soon we were at the other side, the end of Hezekiah's Tunnel!"
Merrill goes on to relate that while he didn't carry an extra candle, as a group they had extra light -- his unlit candle -- in reserve should it be needed. He says that the church, a diverse body of people of different sizes, backgrounds, needs and perspectives ought to have "candlepower" and "candle people" who can help to refuel, rekindle and recharge the soul-lamps of those people whose flame is flickering.
In this experience, Murphy's Law was applicable. The man said 20 minutes. It took at least 40. The man said the candles were sufficient for the journey. They weren't. But in this case, as a family, they were able to invert the law.
In the Church, the same thing can happen. It's a U-Snooze, U-May-Lose World.
The success of the Church in the world is predicated in part on its taking advantage of critical opportunities. If the Church misses the moment - the moment may be lost. In the parable before us, the failure of the five latecomers to respond to the Bridegroom's call - a tardiness occasioned by their lack of readiness - is ir-rectifiable.
This parable is often interpreted eschatologically – as in the end times. But why not consider the possibility that the "Groom" is calling the Church now?
The Groom calls the Church to the banquet now, to fulfill its mission now, to open the door of opportunity now, to take the step of faith now.
It may very well be that the Church, our specific local church, is snoozing -- if not snoozing, there's a real sense of waiting, wondering what's going to happen next. But in this parable, Jesus offers no specific condemnation of the girls who fell asleep. They all did. But when the trumpet sounded, when the call came, when the bells were rung, five of these women were ready; the others were not. The first five snoozed, but didn't lose because they were ready should the trumpet sound. The other five should not have been snoozing; they should have been shopping -- for some candlepower.
Do we need candlepower? A church with candlepower is a church that shows and glows. That is, it's a church that shows up -- it has the candle of preparation. The spadework has been done. The foundation has been built. The groundwork is finished. The plans have been drawn up. Everything needed for the success of the mission has been gathered. A church with candlepower has its candles. It shows up -- with candles at the ready, wicks trimmed.
It also glows. It has both the candle and the flame. It has an external source of power that gives all the prior preparation its explosive and enlightening energy. A glowing church is one which is more than a mere candle, but rather a torch that lights the way. Such a church is a church which prays, a church which studies, a church which worships, a church which remembers the sacraments, a church which offers praise and thanksgiving.
With such a church, Murphy doesn't stand a chance.
Let us pray.
That through the Church’s announcement of the Gospel, God’s word may increase love and give full meaning to pain and suffering. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That civil leaders would use their authority to protect and provide for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will reach out to those on the peripheries with the charity and compassion of Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those facing difficult decisions; that the Lord will stand by them and enlighten their minds and hearts. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor, the sick, the elderly, the grieving, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, and the unemployed; that the Lord will help them in his mercy. We pray to the Lord.
For those members of our parish family who are ill that they may be strengthened with Your healing touch and Your grace. We pray to the Lord.
Grant that we may all have serenity this week as we deal with the many facets of life that sometimes challenge each of us. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to love God and to love our neighbor without fail. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, You have done great things for us; we are filled with joy. Keep us united with You in all things. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca