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oil lamp

Two Christian traditions have used the parable of the wise and foolish maidens.

The tradition of the great African-American Spirituals used the parable’s imagery during slavery to create a “code song” for the Underground Railroad.  “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning” is a stirring Spiritual which refers to watching for the lantern of the conductor of the under-ground railroad. Staying alert and not getting weary were spiritual and practical values so that a slave running toward freedom wouldn’t miss his or her opportunity to be shown at night where the safe passages were, leading to an emancipated life.

Another tradition, that of my childhood Evangelicalism, used this parable to create a children’s song, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning … ‘til the break of day.”  The notion here was that a life of spirituality and prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus makes for genuine fortification to get through the dark night of the soul until “the break of day” (or “heaven”) comes.

Both uses of this parable can be helpful.

You and I need to stay alert to the areas of life where we or others are enslaved by oppression and injustice like economic inequities, human trafficking, warfare, and our climate crisis as well as where we are enslaved by personal issues of addiction, negativity, small mindedness, or living out of our false self. It is crucial to stay alert and to pay attention to those moments where we can move to freedom from all that enslaves us and the entire human family.

You and I also need prayer, meditation, mindfulness, and contemplation to give us oil in our lamp (our soul) to keep us burning with Divine Love, energy, hope, and perseverance.

I commend going for golden spiritual nuggets like these.  The parable’s notions of not sharing our “oil” and dividing between those who are safe “inside” and those who are locked “outside” (Matthew’s propensity to separate rather than unite) are hallmarks of Matthew’s particular misunderstanding of the gospel and are not in keeping with Jesus’s interests in breaking down boundaries of exclusion in God’s Reign of Unitive Divine Love.

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