Matthew 25: 1-13
The Story of the Virgins
“God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.
“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bride-groom’s here! Go out and greet him!’
“The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’
“They answered, ‘There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.’
“They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.
“Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Master, we’re here. Let us in.’
“He answered, ‘Do I know you? I don’t think I know you.’
“So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.
Again, the Lord uses a parable, a story with a hidden meaning, to teach us about the kingdom of God.
In this parable, Jesus tells us about ten virgins, the unmarried women who were bridesmaids at a wedding. He uses the symbol of women, and not men, because it was the tradition for the bridesmaids at a wedding to wait for the bridegroom and welcome him. Some biblical scholars refer to the human soul, both male and female, as "she or her", and although women are at the centre of this story, they represent the whole human race, to whom God's message has been preached.
Jesus says that five of the bridesmaids were wise, while the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take any extra oil with them, while the wise took containers of oil, so they could be prepared in case they ran out. They were meant to meet the bridegroom with their lamps burning, and because the bridegroom was later than they expected, they fell asleep while they waited.
At midnight, behold the long-awaited bridegroom! The bridesmaids hurriedly trimmed their lamps so they would burn more brightly, but the foolish ones had no more oil to keep them lit. They asked for help from the others, but surprisingly, the wise ones turned them down. There is not enough for you and for us, they said, go and buy some for yourself.
Really? We may at this point begin to raise questions on why in this parable the Lord praised those who are lacking in charity towards their neighbour as wise. Don't they realise that it's midnight and no shop might be open? Doesn’t that show a lack of consideration and pity on their part? Our questions indeed, will have no end - until we understand what the oil in the parable actually means.
In Revelation Chapter 19, Verse 8, we hear about a bride whose wedding gown shines with the good deeds of the saints, and this helps us to understand that the oil in this parable can also signify the good deeds we are inspired to do to be ready for the Kingdom of Heaven. If we think of it in this way, now we can understand the actions of the wise bridesmaids. How could they possibly share their good deeds with someone? The best thing they can do is to advise them to go and perform good acts – to buy some more oil for themselves. The good we do will forever go with us, and that is the only oil our heavenly bridegroom will require of us, when we attend the wedding feast on the last day. The Lord says in Matthew 25-34, the king will say to those on the right, 'come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you received me ...’
In other parts of the Bible, the Letter to the Hebrews helps us to understand that without righteousness – goodness - no eyes shall see God, and the letter of St James tells us we can’t assume it is enough just to have faith: ‘How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?’ (James 2:20).
Towards the end of the parable, Jesus tells us that while the foolish bridesmaids were trying to find some oil, the five who were ready went in with the bridegroom to the wedding feast, and the rest were locked out.
May we always be ready for our heavenly bridegroom, Jesus, who has promised to come back on a day we know not, with our lamps burning bright with good works.
Br Gregory Echegwo SDB
Let us pray.
Grant us the grace to be ready always to meet your son, our Lord Jesus, with our lamps burning bright, when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, God forever and ever,