During this final liturgical season of the Dedication of the Church, we reflect on how Jesus will return from heaven to meet the church, his spouse, and take her to his Father’s house. Since only the holy people can enter the abode of God in heaven, Jesus will select the virtuous people, the fruits of his labor through the church, to offer them to the Father. The second coming of Christ is his spiritual harvest. It is the end of his salvific activity and the time of separation of the good and the evil. Jesus presented various illustrations to describe the final tribulation, his second coming, the separation of the good and evil, the last judgement, and his union with the church and her children in heaven. Thus, this is a season of hope and joy for the faithful followers of Jesus. It reminds us of our spiritual goal and necessary preparation for admission in heaven. The parable of the ten virgins is a reminder of how we should prepare for the end of life and for facing Jesus when he comes as the judge.
BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 25:1-13 )
The Ten Bridesmaids
(Mt 25:1) When that day comes, the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. (2) Five of them were foolish while the others were sensible. (3) The foolish bridesmaids took their lamps as they were and did not bring extra oil. (4) But those who were sensible, brought with their lamps flasks of oil. (5) As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. (6) But at midnight, a call rang out: ‘The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!’ (7) All the maidens woke up at once and trimmed their lamps. (8) Then the foolish ones said to the wise: ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’ (9) The wise ones answered: ‘There may not be enough for both you and us. You had better go to the shop and buy for yourselves.’ (10) They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast, and the doors were shut. (11) Later the rest of the maidens arrived and called out: ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us.’ (12) But he answered: ‘I tell you, I do not know you.’ (13) So, stay awake, for you do not know the day or the hour.
The context of this parable of the ten virgins is Jesus’ discourse about the end times. He denounced the Scribes and Pharisees for their incompatibility in religious teachings and practices (Mt 23:1-32). He predicted the judgement of Gehenna upon them for their sins (Mt 23:33-36). Jesus lamented over Jerusalem that it would become abandoned and desolate (Mt 23:37-24:2). In answer to the disciples’ question, Jesus predicted the signs and the tribulation that would happen before his second coming (Mt 24:3-31). He asked the disciples to prepare themselves, “for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). Jesus then told the parable of a servant whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time. The servant’s reward or punishment will depend upon how responsible he would be at the unexpected arrival of the master (Mt 24:45-51). Then, Jesus presented the parable of the ten bridesmaids to teach on the relevance of spiritual preparation necessary from the part of his followers for his second coming. That might happen at an unexpected time.
The Ten Bridesmaids
(Mt 25:1) When that day comes, the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom.
When that day comes,
“That day” or “then” here is the moment of the second coming of Christ or the time of the Parousia, which was the topic Jesus had been discussing with his disciples.
The kingdom of heaven will be like this
The kingdom of heaven at the present age is the church Jesus established. He specifies its condition at his return.
The kingdom of heaven will be like this
The state of the church at the return of Jesus will resemble the state of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom in a Jewish marriage. The arrival time of the bridegroom was unpredictable. He might come at midnight or at an unexpected hour. The second coming of Christ will happen similarly.
Why Jesus chose ten as the number of virgins in the parable? It is Biblically a perfect number he could divide into two equal groups. For Jews, ten was the minimum number of people required to consider as a congregation. They built a synagogue, if at least ten Jews lived in one area. When Boaz took Ruth as his wife, he “picked out ten of the elders of the town and asked them to sit nearby” (Ruth 4:2). Thus, ten was a common number of honorary escorts for Jewish wedding celebrations.
The bridesmaids, or virgins, were friends of the bride. The virgins stand for the Christians whom Jesus selected and sanctified through baptism. Though the bride should be a virgin, the bridesmaids need not be virgins. However, Jesus presented them in the parable as virgins to present their spiritual purity through Christian initiation.
Though the church is the bride of Christ, Jesus did not mention the bride here because the focus of the parable is the preparedness of the church members for the end of earthly life. So, Jesus presents the believers as the virgins awaiting Christ, the groom at an unpredicted hour.
went out with their lamps
Since the groom was coming at night, the virgins had to use the lighted lamp or torch to receive him. Jesus gave the light of grace at the reception of our baptism. We have to keep it lit to receive Jesus on his return.
to meet the bridegroom.
This parable will be clearer by understanding the traditional custom of Jewish marriage. It involved progressive steps. With the consent of the wedding couple, the parents arranged the marriage. After the engagement ceremony, the couples had a preparation period for the wedding, including setting up a living facility for the post-marital life. On the wedding day, the groom would go with his friends to the bride’s house to receive her from her parents. This must be the context when the ten virgins went out with their lamps to welcome the groom to the bride’s house. After the wedding there, the couple will go to the groom’s house for seven days of wedding celebration.
The virgins’ role was to receive the bridegroom to the bride’s house. The bridegroom symbolizes Jesus, who returns from his Father’s house. He had told the apostles, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:2-3). He will return to the earth, the current residence of his bride, the church to take her to his Father’s house, the heaven.
(2) Five of them were foolish while the others were sensible.
Jesus determines the wise and foolish not based on any inborn ability or disability of a person. It depends on how one responds to his teachings. He said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Mt 7:24). “And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand” (Mt 7:26). So, the virgins Jesus presents are not wise or foolish by birth, but are responsible or negligent in their responsibility.
Five of them were foolish
Half of the ten virgins were foolish. According to Psalm, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Their deeds are loathsome and corrupt; not one does what is good” (Ps 14:1). In the parable of the Rich Fool that Jesus taught, the rich man who got a bountiful harvest wished to store everything for his own delight. But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” (Lk 12:20). According to Jesus, the rich man ought to have become rich in what matters to God (Lk 12:21). The foolish virgins were careless and did not prepare for the possible delayed arrival of the groom. Comparable situation can happen to the Christians who will be irresponsible and unprepared to face death and to receive the Messiah at his second coming for judgement.
while the others were sensible.
The wise seek God (Ps 14:2) and do what is good (Ps 14:3). They are the faithful servants (Mt 24:45). These five virgins were prudent in preparing for the unforeseen arrival time of the groom. The Christians have to prepare to receive the Messiah or face the particular judgement after death that can happen any time.
By dividing the virgins as two groups of five each does not mean that Christ would accept only half of the Christians but is a warning to the disciples that though they are members of the church by baptism, they should be prudent in keeping up the grace they have received by following Jesus’ teachings. Though both groups expected the groom, what makes them distinct is their preparedness to receive him.
(3) The foolish bridesmaids took their lamps as they were and did not bring extra oil.
The lamps the virgins used were torches made of rags rolled around the end of a rod. They dipped the torches into the oil as fuel and then lighted them for bright light. Such were the torches the soldiers used when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn 18:3). Hence, one who holds such a lamp needs to carry additional oil in a vessel to replenish the torch for a continuous flaming.
Though the virgins knew that the bridegroom would delay and come at an uncertain time, the foolish bridesmaids ignored that. They expected the arrival and the reception to be instant and had the oil enough for a short-term use. That made them fail in their mission.
Jesus, the light of the world, wanted his followers also as the light in the darkness of this age. During the sermon on the mount Jesus proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:13-16). When the Christians fail in this, they are like the foolish virgins. Jesus gives the extra oil of grace through the sacraments of the church. Some who become Christians by baptism do not follow up to equip with additional oil of grace for their spiritual enrichment. Such people will be unprepared for the second coming of Christ and will miss the opportunity to enter his eternal glory.
(4) But those who were sensible, brought with their lamps flasks of oil.
In contrast to the foolish virgins, the wise bridesmaids were sensible to preserve enough oil for the reception of the groom. When we apply this to the Christians, all have faith in Jesus, but only the “wise” have faith in action. Divine worship and acts of mercy are necessary for salvation, as Jesus clarified in his verdict of the last judgement.
The behavior of the wise virgins illustrates what Jesus expects from the Christians to prepare for their entry into the kingdom of God. Like the sensible bridesmaids, they should aim at the eternal banquet in heaven and nourish their souls with acts of mercy. That preparation should be result oriented, giving light to themselves and those around them.
(5) As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
As the bridegroom delayed
The delayed arrival of the bridegroom was normal in a Jewish wedding. Similar delay would happen in the second coming of Christ. Jesus had predicted his delay through his parables (Mt 24:48; 25:19). Because of the wait at night, all the virgins fell asleep. That was natural and not a failure on their part. They knew they would get warning when the groom arrives. Similarly, most Christians die or sleep in Christ before his second coming. Those who die in Christ also have the hope that they will rise at the second coming of Christ.
they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
The virgins had no intention of going to bed while waiting for the groom. However, because of the delay, before midnight, they all felt drowsy and fell asleep while waiting. Drowsiness is comparable to the terminal illness and falling asleep to death. By the time the virgins slept, the preparation time for welcoming the groom was over. Similar to a dying person, the virgins could no longer change their destiny. Like the drowsiness and sleep, sickness and death can also happen at an expected or unexpected time. Hence, the present is the valuable time for us to prepare our souls with sufficient spiritual fuel to illumine us when the Lord wakes us for the last judgement.
(6) But at midnight, a call rang out: ‘The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!’
But at midnight
The midnight arrival of the bridegroom implies the unexpected time of Christ’s return. That is a time of deep sleep when awaking is least desirable. Jesus had warned his disciples, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). The early Christian community expected the second coming of Christ at night. “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (1 Thes 5:2). Only the Father knows that time. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:32-33). The importance is for the preparedness at the present time, so we shall face in peace when Christ comes.
a call rang out
The announcement came from the bridegroom’s companions, alerting the virgins to come out and receive the groom with the lighted torches. At the second coming of Jesus, “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt 24:30-31). Paul writes, “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:16-17). So, the wise and the fool, the righteous and sinners will rise to meet Jesus at his judgement seat.
‘The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!’
The wake-up call happens suddenly stating, “The bridegroom is here.” Christ’s second coming shall also take place “in an instant, in the blink of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52). That shows the lack of time for additional preparation to face the bridegroom.
The angels’ call of the deceased will be to come out of the tombs for the last judgement. It will be based on each one’s actions while alive to prepare for the Kingdom of God. “Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29).
(7) All the maidens woke up at once and trimmed their lamps.
All the maidens woke up at once.
At the wake-up call at midnight, the wise and the foolish virgins awoke and hurried for the reception of the bridegroom. This is parallel to the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ. The faithful and the unfaithful will hear the voice and rise from the tombs. Jesus advised his disciples on his second coming: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival” (Lk 12:35-37).
and trimmed their lamps
While waiting for the groom, the maidens became drowsy and fell asleep. Since that was unintentional, their lamps were burning until they woke up at midnight. The oil was exhausted, and the lamp was dim for lack of fuel. So, they had to refresh the torch by clearing the charcoal and adding additional oil. The same happens to believers who realize their imminent death. They might try to revive their spiritual life and receive sacraments if possible, so they could brighten their soul to face God. However, the sinners might not do so because of their lack of faith, or they might be too late to do so, as with the foolish virgins.
(8) Then the foolish ones said to the wise: ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’
Then the foolish ones said to the wise
The foolish virgins found a simple solution to their problem. They sought the help of the wise virgins to share their excess oil, under the impression that they could depend on them during that crisis.
‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out.’
The foolish ones found their lamps were going out. That means their lamps were still burning and were extinguishing, giving only a dim light. They realized their lamps needed more oil as fuel to proceed with the reception of the bridegroom.
The foolish virgins represent the Christians who were once Spirit filled. But they failed to continue gaining the grace they received. Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:14-16). Unfortunately, the spiritually foolish people do not take this teaching seriously. So, their lamps eventually get extinguished. By the end of life, they get alarmed and try to depend on others who cannot help them at that late period. In the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, the rich man came to realize his foolishness only after his death when he saw Lazarus at the bosom of Abraham. Neither Abraham nor Lazarus could help him at that later stage (Lk 16:19-31).
(9) The wise ones answered: ‘There may not be enough for both you and us. You had better go to the shop and buy for yourselves.’
The response of the wise virgins to the foolish might seem uncharitable because they refused the desperate appeal for help. This parable is about preparation for salvation and not charity. The wise virgins had their justification because they realized they had no extra oil to share. In case they do so with what they had, all the ten would fail in receiving the bridegroom. That is why they suggested the foolish virgins to go for shopping at their own risk.
The message here is that we cannot claim the merit of others’ virtues for us, regardless of whether they are our friends or family members. We have to do our part for our salvation. The lesson we learn from the foolish maidens is that we cannot procrastinate the virtuous acts for a later stage. Character formation and spiritual development can be a lengthy process. Even if we get a last-minute opportunity to recompense for negligence happened in the past, it can be too late or less effective.
(10) They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast, and the doors were shut.
They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came
The wise virgins were prudent to buy the oil ahead of time. On their advice, the foolish went to buy the fuel late at night when the shopping hours were over. So, they took a long time to purchase the oil. The bridegroom came in the meantime. Hence, they missed the opportunity to welcome the groom on time. Our end of life, or Christ’s second coming, can happen when we are not ready.
those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast
Like the wise virgins in the parable, only those who are spiritually ready can enter with Jesus in the eternal banquet. Others would miss the opportunity forever.
And the doors were shut.
Once the bridegroom, along with his companions and those who received him, entered the banquet hall, he shut the door, denying access to any latecomers. Thus, the foolish missed the entry when they returned with oil. The lack of enough preparation caused the downfall of their longtime goal.
God asked Noah to have only one door for the ark that he built to save his family from the deluge (Gen 6:16). After the selected pairs of animals and Noah’s family entered the ark, God shut the door (Gen 7:16). The wicked realized their fault only late and all their attempts to enter the ark and other means of survival failed. Thus, God destroyed them as victims of the flood. Jesus had warned the sudden shutting of the door of heaven at his return that might embarrass the non-practicing believers (Lk 13:25). Jesus has given enough warning beforehand to avoid such a tragedy.
When Jesus the bridegroom comes to the world to receive his bride, the church, and take her to his Father’s house for the wedding banquet, only those members of the church who are spiritually prepared will join him in the banquet. Then he will shut the doors of heaven. The unprepared will lose the opportunity of salvation. Hence, this is the time for conversion and spiritual preparation.
(11) Later the rest of the maidens arrived and called out: ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us.’
Later the rest of the maidens arrived and called out
The foolish maidens could buy oil at the late hour. However, when they arrived at the reception, they found the door shut. With the hope of entry, the frustrated virgins cried out to the groom to open the door for them.
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us.’
God answers our plea for help when we are alive. If God shuts the door of heaven preventing our entry, such prayers are futile as with the Rich Man in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. So, the time for correction of life is now and God will shut the door of life at an unexpected hour, with no further hope of salvation for the spiritually foolish.
During the sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 7:21). The oil they lacked was the negligence in doing the will of the Father. Hence, any late call to open the door will become ineffective. Jesus said, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). Only he can open the door to heaven and once he shuts it, no one will open it for us. Jesus entrusted the key to this door on earth only to Peter and his successors. So let us be in union with the church that Peter and his successors lead and follow its directions in fulfilling the will of the Father.
(12) But he answered: ‘I tell you, I do not know you.’
Jesus, the bridegroom of the church, knows the wise and the fool. However, he will consider only the righteous as his own and others as outcasts at the time of the last judgement. Hence, “I do not know you” is a declaration of rejection from the kingdom of God. The Hebrew idiom, “I do not know you” means, “I do not recognize your claim” as the bridesmaids or as guests in the banquet hall. So, the words “I do not know you” are Jesus’ disapproval of his disobedient disciples.
Jesus used similar words on other occasions. He told his disciples to enter the Kingdom of God through the narrow door. “After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where [you] are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’” (Lk 13:24-27). Hence, those who miss the entry after closing the door are not strangers to Jesus. They are the unfaithful Christians.
Doing the will of the Father is a requirement for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7: 21-23).
Is faith in Jesus enough for salvation? When an earthquake at midnight caused the liberation of Paul and Silas from prison, the jailer attempted to kill himself. They prevented him from doing so. To his question on “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16:25-34). So, there are people who claim that faith in Jesus is enough for salvation. However, we have to express the faith in action by obeying the teachings of Jesus. Paul wrote, “God’s solid foundation stands, bearing this inscription, ‘The Lord knows those who are his’; and, ‘Let everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord avoid evil’” (2 Tim 2:19).
(13) So, stay awake, for you do not know the day or the hour.
Jesus concluded the parable with its message in this verse. “Stay awake” is meant in a spiritual sense. There was nothing wrong when the virgins felt drowsy and slept. It was a natural necessity. However, spiritual drowsiness and sleep are detrimental. Like the foolish virgins, people in the world are spiritually careless and engaged in worldly pleasures. “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt 24:37-39).
for you do not know the day or the hour.
The divine call of death or the second coming of Christ can happen anytime, or an hour when one least expects it. Jesus said, “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). Though “the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (1 Thes 5:2), for those who are spiritually upright, it is a time of delight to join their master in the eternal banquet as with the wise virgins.