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The parable of the ten virgins

Gospel Reading: Mt 25:1-13
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In this story about the ten virgins – five wise, five foolish – it is when the cry suddenly arises that the bridegroom is on his way that the difference between the wise and the foolish becomes critical. The lamps of the foolish bridesmaids start to fail because of lack of oil, so they try to borrow some oil from the wise virgins. The wise have brought spare oil for their own lamps, but not enough to take care of everyone’s lamps, so they send the foolish virgins on a midnight run to the oil dealer.

Most scholars agree that this parable should be interpreted allegorically. The wedding banquet is a symbol of the Kingdom of heaven (cf Mt 22:1-10), and the long-awaited bridegroom clearly is the expected Son of Man, Jesus Christ (cf Mt 24:30). The strange picture of the bridegroom’s midnight arrival reflects the idea that the Messiah will come at an unexpected time, like a thief in the night (cf Mt 24:43-44; cf also 1 Thes 4:16-17). The cry of the foolish virgins, “Lord, Lord…,” and the response of the groom, “I do not know you” (vv 11-12), echo the judgment of Mt 7:21-23, where Jesus declares, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven,” and Christ will turn away from evildoers with a dire, “I never knew you.”

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