My memories of being a Boy Scout were quite impressive. Most of the major impressions were of the camping trips. Travelling to new places, encounters with nature, viewing wide open spaces and seeing plenty of mountain greenery. Finally, there was the opportunity of meeting new people. But, in spite of all this wonder, there were problems.
The biggest problem was that somehow, somewhere, sometime something would go wrong. For example, couldn’t get the fire going when it was my turn to cook. Couldn’t hear the whistle for general assembly. Missed some sporting events because I forgot. Solution? Made the best of the Scout motto: “Be Prepared”– for whatever happens. That way you are ready for whatever happens. Being prepared for the unforseen was one of the most important lessons I learned from the Boy Scouts.
In today’s Gospel (Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus focuses on the idea of being prepared. He tells his disciple a parable of ten young ladies who are to accompany the bridegoom to his wedding by carrying lit torches. They are to process him to the place of the ceremony. Half of them remembered to bring oil, and the other half did not. In other words, some were prepared, some were not.
Since the bridegroom was late in coming, the young ladies fell asleep. Soon a shout greeted his arrival, and those without oil wanted to borrow some from those who came prepared. They were unable to do so because there would not be enough oil for both groups. So the unprepared ladies had to go to the market and buy some.
When they returned, the procession had already taken place. Their lack of preparation rendered their function useless. But what was Jesus trying to say by means of this parable? I suspect that Jesus was speaking about the need for preparation in this life as a preparation for the next life. How is that done?
Preparation in this life which is preparation for the next life has to do with how people treat one another. Basically, it is not much more than following Jesus’ example in treating others with justice, dignity, compassion and respect. As long as one continues to do that, one is being prepared. But, what about ourselves? I think one of the best forms of preparation is to develop the sense of “foresight.” It is true that one cannot see the future, but one can give direction to the future one wants to take. Like how?
“Foresight” means the ability to distinguish between looking “directly ahead” and looking “around you.” The distinction exists in the fact that looking directlyahead means that your vision is severely limited. That can also mean that you are focussed on precisely one issue and are unable (unwilling?) to listen to others. Looking around you is, in reality, circumspection (from the Latin which means “to look around”). This can also mean that though you are focussed on one issue, you are open to other possibilites, by looking around.
As we see in the Gospels, Jesus was very circumspect. He always looked around and saw the needs of others–and responded. For us, “circumspection” means looking around at the needs of others–and responding. Following this example is a good way of “being prepared” for whatever happens.