Prudence or Generosity?
What is more important to a virtuous life – prudence or generosity? Perhaps that is an underlying question in Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins going to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and brought no extra oil; five were wise and came prepared for a lengthy wait with extra oil in their flasks. When asked to generously share their oil, the five wise women refused. Of course as the others went off to buy oil, the Bridegroom came and took the five wise virgins into the banquet. The others came back to find the door locked. When they pleaded, Jesus denied knowing them, saying: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Jesus is reminding us that, though we don’t know when we will be called home to God, we must remain prepared. Our lamps should be untarnished so they can spread the light of our love. The oil in our lamps might well be the good we have done or the love we have shown to our neighbors and friends. This is the wisdom of the five virgins who came prepared.
The Book of Wisdom paints a beautiful word picture of Wisdom as resplendent and unfading. As she hastens to make herself known, many will pass her by because they are not paying attention. The attributes of Wisdom are those we should seek. Every person has inherent dignity as a child of God and should, thereby, seek Wisdom as she seeks them because they are worthy.
How very God-like is this description of Wisdom! How lovingly God reaches out to us, inviting us to an intimate relationship, ever ready to infuse our hearts and spirits with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, dwelling with God in Jesus and in us.
Yes, we need to be prepared. No, we should not give away our last drop of oil, lest we won’t have light to see when Jesus comes to greet us. The good of our lives, of sharing God’s love with others, of bearing our crosses with patience and humility, of offering kind words instead harsh criticism, of silently listening to another’s pain – all these kindnesses, when pressed together, will yield oil that will light our lamps and guide the way for others too.
What is more important – prudence or generosity? I don’t think that’s the question today. I believe the choice is much more between living in God’s love and ignoring it. It is accepting everything from the hand of God and using it to light our lamps or discarding those things in our lives that are unpleasant or painful – to refuse to open all the gifts we are given. Perhaps the ones we would rather not open may well provide the most vibrant light for our lamps.