Having just heard this evocative parable from Jesus, I recognise a lot of you will now be hoping for a good wedding story. Having officiated at very many weddings over the years, I do have a few good yarns up my sleeves, but they tend not to be the sorts of stories suitable for preaching about. So, I won’t share one with you now.
Instead, I want to take you fishing (of all things). I don’t fish myself, so I’m not familiar with all the intricacies of it, but we all readily have a sense of what’s involved, much more perhaps than an image of a group of bridesmaids with burning lanterns waiting for the bridegroom. If you are going to go out on the Bay with your little dingy to do a bit of fishing, you know you need to prepare, to look ahead. What’s the weather going to do? Is the boat in order, and the engine fuelled up? Do you have your lifejacket; and some water and food? Is your fishing tackle in order, and have you remembered to get the bait out of the fridge?
These are all rather practical and fairly simple things to do to make the fishing venture as enjoyable as possible. It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll catch anything, but it might be the difference between a miserable or even dangerous outing, and a pleasant day on the water. Some sensible thinking beforehand, some planning ahead, some attentiveness to the little things, will make for a well-ordered day and a readiness to confront any problems that arise.
We can think that the practice of our faith can be a complicated and mysterious thing. Certainly, the fullness of God is a mystery to be grappled with, but this grappling is not something determined by our level of intellectual prowess. Faith is a practical activity, not an academic undertaking. The call of the Lord to a shared life in him does not depend on passing any tests. But it does involve being attentive to what matters, of looking ahead.
Think of it this way: we are all made for friendship. It’s good to make friends, and it’s good that someone would want to be your friend. We don’t need to over-think this. There is a trust factor in chancing yourself on a friendship, an act of faith. But you do have to work on it if you want to keep your friends. So, being attentive to the little things can make all the difference: being in contact, finding out about their life, sharing memories together, learning to trust them with the deep things in your life. These little things, that strengthen the relationship, are what allow for you to navigate the rough waters. Friends do not so much look at each other; they more look ahead together.
Friendship with Jesus is ours to pursue, for he wants to befriend us. That is faith, and it does call for trust. But we can all do this. We know how to be attentive to a friend; we can be attentive to Jesus. He is attentive to us. What we need is some simple preparations and being attentive to what matters, so that our friendship with the Lord might flourish through thick and thin.
This is what true wisdom is about – not intellectual skill or abstract knowledge, but trust and sensible know-how, and a looking ahead. The wisdom that Jesus was teaching about in his parable today is the wisdom of going fishing, and of forming friendships (and having enough oil for your lamp): simple, practical, attentive. We call such wisdom a virtue, because it involves the practicing of something good, so that the living of it is good. It is a looking ahead, so that our arrival is a blessing. The wise brides were looking ahead to the bridegroom. Jesus invites us to do the same.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021