Access denied; the parable of the ten virgins – Friday, 21st Week in ordinary time – Mt 25:1-13
The reason why the parable of the wise and foolish servants is followed by the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids or virgins, is simply to reiterate a point; the need for readiness for the day of the Lord. These two parables form part of a series of four Matthean parables that illustrate the Parousia and the final judgment.
Matthew, like the Old Testament prophets, employs nuptial imagery to describe the relationship between God and His people (remember the book of Hosea). Clearly the ten bridesmaids are representatives of the disciples whose love grows dim because of the delay of the Parousia (the second coming of Jesus).
The parable which is more of an allegory, employs a number of images that Matthew’s community would have been most familiar with. The Nuptial imagery was further heightened by the banquet imagery, symbolic of messianic banquet at the end times when the blessed would share a meal with the Messiah. Then there was the imagery of the ‘bridegroom,’ symbolic of Jesus Himself.
Wedding festivities lasted several days in the time of Jesus. The bride and groom would make a long journey home. This journey was not long because of the length that needed to be traversed, but because the bride and groom would feel obliged to respond to several invitations to stop and celebrate their joyous occasion with friends and family. This parable is a bit of a tricky one for we don’t know if the groom is headed to the bride’s home or is accompanying his bride to his home. There is no mention of the bride at all simply because that’s not the focus of the parable.
The disciples who lived in the last two decades of the first century had grown weary of waiting for the second coming of the Messiah. The Parousia now seemed no longer immanent, but perhaps a distant reality. Complacency had begun to set in among the disciples and hence the parable set in ink, served as a warning. The intention was clearly to remind them that their tardy attitude would be met by severe punishment should they be caught napping.
The parable has only one point to make, lest we lose the plot; and that is to be ready. There are many aspects of this parable that might cause us to get distracted and ask irrelevant questions. For example we may ask why did the wise virgins not share some oil, why were they selfish? Does this parable condone selfishness? We could also ask why the wise virgins were not reprimanded for falling asleep before the bridegroom arrived. Should not their behaviour be reflected in all manners of life? And what was so ‘wise’ in the suggestion of the wise virgins to go out and purchase oil at midnight (even though it is surprisingly available- verse 10).
The parable has just one point to make and the rest of the details are irrelevant. The question that should hit home, is not so much about being vigilant (remember all ten virgins felt drowsy and slept) but about being ready for the Lord’s coming.
Perhaps the waiting that has stretched over two thousand and seventeen years has numbed the excitement of the Parousia in us today. There is a reason why we gather primarily on a Sunday for worship and it has much more to do with just a mandate set in stone. The Gospels tell us that each time the Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection He did so on a Sunday; simply mentioned in scripture as “seven days later.”
There are no prizes for guessing the Lord’s preferential day of making His grand appearance when He comes again. So think twice before you decide to skip the next Sunday Mass!
Fr Warner D’Souza