The Gospel reading reminds us that there are some things that cannot be obtained at the last minute. A student will not be able to pass a test if he or she waits until the day of the test to study the material.
A person who needs a specific skill for a task will not be successful at the task if they have not previously developed the necessary skill.
It reminds us that there are some things that cannot be borrowed. A person cannot borrow another person’s moral values, another person’s honest character, or another person’s relationship with God. It reminds us that there are consequences to our actions.
So here he is in September: a first-year college student. Finally, out and living on his own. Mom and Dad no longer setting curfews or asking where he’s going and who he’s been with. He can come and go as he pleases. Yeah, he gets to class enough times to count. But suddenly – it’s Thanksgiving! He returns to campus after the holiday break and realizes there are only two weeks left to the semester and there’s that psychology paper to write that was assigned in September, a lab report for chemistry that he hasn’t begun, and the spine of the history book that hasn’t even been cracked. The excuses begin: That professor is too demanding… Why do I have to take a writing course – I’m a business major… The instructor is so boring… The class meets too early… And so on and so on. But the real issue is this: The kid’s an empty lantern.
They don’t hesitate to make their feelings known: You’ve got to cut the budget. You’re wasting taxpayer’s money. That service isn’t needed. You’re giving our hard-earned tax dollars to lazy freeloaders. That crowd at Town Hall are all incompetent hacks. But when a service they depend on is cut, when money for their child’s school is no longer there, when they have to haul their own garbage every week to the town’s trash disposal site, they’re stunned. How could this happen? Easy. Empty lanterns.
She thought he was the one. The break-up was as surprising as it was devastating. But she expected him to take the lead, to understand her wants and expectations, and to make the sacrifices needed to make the relationship work. And for a long time, he did, rearranging his life to accommodate hers. But, as the saying goes, she was “in love with being in love” – and he began to wonder if she was in love with him. So, one day he ended it, thanking her for the good times, hoping they could remain friends, but making it clear that it would be best if they went their separate ways. And she was left, stunned and hurt, with her empty lantern.
The parable of the empty lanterns strikes close to home for us when we realize too late that our lamps are empty of the responsibility, gratitude, generosity, and justice that makes for good decisions, for responsible actions, and relationships in life.
When we fail to seek the common good, to see how our actions affect others, refuse to accept responsibility for our decisions.
When we become so caught up in ourselves that we fail to see the implications of our actions. When this happens, the light in our lamps goes out.
There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words, “too late.”
Image: Oil lamp @ Nazareth Village_0696 by hoyasmeg is licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).