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Daily Devotional • November 27

Sarah Cornwell
Strong Flame
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten young women took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those young women got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the other young women came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

At first, the oil seems a trivial detail of the story. What stands out more is that the tardy bridegroom harshly rejects five of the bridesmaids, while the other five, who are stingy and unwilling to share, are rewarded. If we allow the significance of the oil to sink to the bottom of a surface level reading, the message of the parable is pretty twisted. St. Augustine, however, is quick to point out that oil does not sink, but rather rises to the top. 

So what about this oil? St. Augustine writes that the oil is the charity that fuels the lamps of good works. These lamps are the means by which “your works shine before men” so that others may see and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16). How then can we fuel our good works? According to St. Paul, we can do nothing that is good without charity: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. 8:3). Charity — like a lamp in the darkness — is necessary fuel for Christian living in this world. Where can we acquire this oil?

Charity is a gift from God, not something we can procure ourselves. If we believe we can purchase it through some earthly vendor, we have gone after the wrong kind of oil, and our works will ultimately sputter and fail, rather than shine before men to the greater glory of God. Harsh though it may seem, without these good works fueled by the charity sought and ultimately given from above, the bridegroom will not know us. If we pray for one thing today, therefore, let us pray for charity, for it is not an insignificant detail, but a gift that rises above all else.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have seven children and they live in Wheaton, Illinois.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, Florida
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