Today’s gospel (Mt 25:1-13) ends with the admonition, “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” In some ways, our culture seems more awake than ever. We have chemical stimulants, such as sugars and coffees, which “get us going,” and “keep us going.” Our culture is filled with sensory stimulants as well, from the scintillation of photos and videos to the ostentation of lights and logos. Many of us could not sleep if we wanted to, since the lights glare so brightly. But might this wakefulness mask a deeper and more troubling somnolence? Once, drunken revelers at least ceased their imbibing once they passed out. Today, however, one can encounter more and more so-called “Red Bull Zombies,” who are no less impaired by alcohol, but who are impeded from sleep by having simultaneously consumed powerful energy drinks (See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/education/edlife/binge-drinking-students-penn-state.html). These people cannot sleep, but nor can they really be said to be awake.
Are we “awake” in the manner of a “Red Bull zombie,” or are we awake in the way that the Lord calls us to be? The wakefulness that Jesus calls us to is not properly opposed to sleep. In fact, all ten of the virgins, both the wise and the foolish ones, fall asleep. The Lord himself sleeps so soundly that even a storm buffeting the boat in which he sleeps cannot wake him (cf. Mk 4:38-40). Those who do not know how to give themselves over to the sleep that the Lord offers might not know how to hand themselves over to grace. Rather, the wakefulness that the Lord Jesus calls us to is one in which we abide in his love, ready to accomplish the greater mission of love which the Lord has entrusted to our care. The wise virgins do not bring with them merely the oil (i.e. the love) that they require for the task that they have been given. They bring with them all the oil that they can, and then they discover that the task that they were given has been expanded, for the Bridegroom is delayed, and that they will need all this oil in order in order to worthily receive their Lord.
The “wakefulness” that the Lord invites us to is a fundamental orientation towards the love that he offers, not the senseless frenetic activity that typifies our clickbait culture. If, like the foolish virgins, we stand ready to “do our part” but no more, then when the Lord should come to us in need of our help “beyond the call of duty,” then we will find ourselves lacking the charity to love the Lord in the least of our neighbors who are most in need of our love. In that moment, the foolish virgin will express outrage on social media and demand that the “powers that be” act to change an unjust situation. But the wise virgin will simply trim the lamp of her love, and light the way to the wedding feast for the Lord, who arrives under the guise of the poor and most in need.