“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.
But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’
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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is perfect fodder for literary criticism; it’s the stuff of Joyce and Eliot and O’Neill. Here we have an allegory that makes us dance between the story and the deeper meaning. Are the ten bridesmaids married to one bridegroom? Where is the bride? What’s with the oil, and why did each bridesmaid need a lamp—couldn’t they share the light enough to interact with the bridegroom? Why would the bridegroom say he didn’t recognize five of the ten bridesmaids?
As my head reels, I can hear St. Ignatius saying, “Don’t be so literal! Use your imagination and engage your heart!”
Okay, now I see a little better . . . Like marriage, the relationship between God and his people is deeply intimate. Like the bridesmaids, the disciples and all people of faith wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ (the bridegroom). And like the wise bridesmaids, we need to have enough “oil” so we can see Christ present in the world.
Ignatius calls us to linger when we’ve struck gold, or in this case, oil. As we wait in joyful hope, what lights our lamps is the oil of open hearts, love of the “other,” and works of mercy. In our Catholic tradition, oil doesn’t just light our lamps, it is used to anoint the newly baptized, catechumens, newly ordained priests, and the sick. Oil is loaded with ancient symbolism and meaning.
Today, let’s reflect on how we can stay awake and see Christ at work in the world. Let’s light our lamps with the oil of love and keep them burning through a spirit of generosity.
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.
Lord, let us live this day with no regrets. May we count our blessings when we feel downhearted or overwhelmed. May we see the magic in the common and seize opportunity though fear may try to hold us back. May we remember those who loved us so much on earth, confident that we will one day be one with them. Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.
—The Jesuit Prayer TeamPlease share the Good Word with your friends!