Three parables (at least) of the kingdom speak of surprise & immediacy, irreversibility & finality:
And he spoke a similitude to them, saying: The land of a certain rich man brought forth plenty of fruits. And he thought within himself, saying: What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said: This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and will build greater; and into them will I gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods. And I will say to my soul: Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years take thy rest; eat, drink, make good cheer. But God said to him: Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God. [Luke 12:16-21]
And Jesus answering, spoke again in parables to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son. And he sent his servants, to call them that were invited to the marriage; and they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying: Tell them that were invited, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my calves and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come ye to the marriage. But they neglected, and went their own ways, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise. And the rest laid hands on his servants, and having treated them contumeliously, put them to death. But when the king had heard of it, he was angry, and sending his armies, he destroyed those murderers, and burnt their city. Then he saith to his servants: The marriage indeed is ready; but they that were invited were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways; and as many as you shall find, call to the marriage. And his servants going forth into the ways, gathered together all that they found, both bad and good: and the marriage was filled with guests. And the king went in to see the guests: and he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment. And he saith to him: Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? But he was silent. Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. [Matthew 22:1-14]
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour. [Matthew 25:1-13]
Surprise: Each of the people described are caught off-guard (although they should not have been).
Immediacy: There is no time to tarry.
Irreversibility: There are no second chances.
Finality: The consequences are absolute.
In the parable of the wedding, there are many guests, but one, it seems, comes unprepared. The other guests are not consulted and one can imagine them blithely unaware of the consequence for the unprepared guest. But in the parable of the virgins, there is an additional component that gives it a little more sting. The wise virgins are asked to share by the foolish virgins, and yet they refuse. In today’s ethos they might be called the “selfish virgins,” who are to blame for not sharing the fate of the unprepared.
There is a subtext that I have heard rather often in those who take an agnostic or skeptical view of salvation. It kind of goes like this: “I have trouble believing that God who is all-good and all-knowing would send someone to hell without giving them a chance. What about the child in Africa | Asia | other place where they haven’t even heard of Jesus? Is God going to send that child to hell?” (This last spoken with appropriately accusatory gaze.)
The answer to the above is this: “What does that have to do with you? You have the faith preached to you daily in the West and you haven’t taken hold of it with the proper sense of urgency. Don’t use some abstract concept of some child in a far-off country who might not have heard the message you hear every day. Believe the Gospel and then, if you have such fire for the faith in reality as you have in the breach, go to those places where children haven’t heard it and preach it to them.”
We can get into the details of why there are places on the earth today, after 20 centuries of Christian evangelism, where people haven’t heard the Gospel. Parts of the world have been particularly resistant to the Christian message, especially in eastern Asia. In western Asia and north Africa the Christian message was turned against Christianity by the spread of Islam which sprang from an amalgam of heresies. We can even blame the self-weakening of Christendom by the Protestant Revolution which, while the spread of the faith in the Americas can be traced in part to the efforts of protestant movements, ultimately led to a secularized watering down of the faith so that there are virtually no Protestants today who will even approach Jesus Christ Truly Present in the Eucharist.
Which is all well and good, but I want to jump off from this point to highlight something. This idea, this misplaced idea that we have something in the West that is unfair for us to have because they don’t have it in more underprivileged areas of the world, is the source of all the liberal, guilt-laden, self-paralyzing lack of action that we see not only in the world of politics but in the Church herself in many cases. Even those who don’t take advantage of it recognize that Christendom has something remarkably special that the rest of the world, however unconsciously, envies and covets. In particular, lukewarm Christians, along with the agnostics and atheists for whom Christianity is an embarrassment, feel the need to apologize for what they regard as religious colonialism, and they are willing to do what no good Christian would do, which is to sacrifice the faith rather than themselves. This sums up the thing about liberalism that turns off believing Christians, to the dismay, consternation, and even confusion of lukewarm Christians in particular, who think that the wise virgins should share their oil with the foolish ones. If you are blessed to have heard the Gospel, believe in it, and then if you truly care about those who have not heard it, light your lamp and illuminate them, but don't be foolish and pour out your oil for them.
Rather, what we have today are equivocators, who “shut the kingdom of heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter.” [Matthew 23:13] It is not usual to hear of these as being the equivalent of the scribes and Pharisees, but it is precisely these whom Jesus called hypocrites, because they HAD the kingdom and they disdained it. They wanted to be esteemed of men, to have the honored seats in the religious places, to be called- Your Excellency, Your Eminence?
Harsh? More harsh is that we are not being taught the Gospel as Jesus taught it- That we will be caught by surprise, in a situation of great immediacy, with final and terrible consequences, and worst of all to find out at that moment, that our fate is irreversible. We must be as harsh as Jesus was about this subject.
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [Matthew 8:12]
Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [Matthew 22:13]
The lord of that servant shall come in a day that he hopeth not, and at an hour that he knoweth not: And shall separate him, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [Matthew 24:50-51]
And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [Matthew 25:30]