A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew:
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.”
I wonder what would have happened if they’d stayed.
That’s not the only thing I wonder about this parable. Of course I wonder about those five wise virgins who brought extra oil for the lamps. They thought ahead and had everything they needed for an emergency, but they were greedy. They didn’t share. It doesn’t take very much oil to get a fire going; they could have split what they had, but they didn’t, and the other five went off into the darkness to buy oil. When the Bridegroom showed up, he found five fewer virgins than he’d expected, because the fivewise virgins had refused to share, and I hope he had something to say to them about that. Surely generosity is more important than prudence. Now half the wedding party is lost in the dark, and these wise virgins share blame for that.
But I also wonder what would have happened if the foolish virgins had stayed.
I wonder what would have happened if the Bridegroom had come at the hour nobody knows, and found half the wedding party holding lit lamps and the other half standing there awkwardly, lamps extinguished. I wonder how it would have been if the foolish virgins had run to Him and explained their mistake, and the Bridegroom had said “That’s all right, the wise ones fell asleep too. Everybody broke the rules and you’re the only ones who look bad for it, and that is unjust. But I am the Just Judge who sees rightly, and I forgive you all of you. I am also the Wellspring of Light Lightself, in Whom there is no darkness, and I’ve never needed any oil. Here, I will share my light with you whether your lamps have oil or not. All that matters in the end is that you came to Me. Let the foolish and the wise, the ones who appear righteous and the ones who do not, all partake in My eternal Light. Let the ones who bore the cross of looking foolish unjustly appear even brighter, that every wrong may be made right. Now, let’s go to the wedding.”
Because, after all, Christ didn’t command us “bring oil.” The oil is beside the point.
The command at the end of this parable is “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
And nobody in the parable fulfilled that command.
All sinned, all fell short, all were asleep when they should have been alert. Both the wise and the foolish let the Bridegroom down. Five had some extra supplies to make it look like they knew what they were doing, and five couldn’t even manage that.
I wonder what happened to the five who went off to buy oil.
I wonder if they went to the merchants, the charlatans, the liars, the people who stand in the marketplace yelling that if you don’t give us your money and stock up on oil, the Bridegroom will punish you for your imprudence. I wonder how much they spent to fill those lamps. I wonder if they lost all they had and suffered terribly, trying to hoard up enough oil to make it up to the Bridegroom for their failure. One way or another, they came running back to the wedding feast, lamps lit, finally looking the way that they ought, and the Bridegroom said “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Because the Bridegroom never said anything about looking the way that you ought. The commandment was not to bring oil. All the Bridegroom wanted was for them to stay awake.
I wonder if the Bridegroom went out to find them later– out into the darkness where most of us land, at one time or another, because we thought we were supposed to be buying oil instead of paying attention.
I wonder if He explained things, and did something about those fraudulent merchants, and gave the foolish virgins back what they lost.
I hope He told them that they were the bride all along, that the wedding was meant for them: a glorious feast where He blessed them with His perfect light for all eternity, because He loved them, whether they managed to stay awake or not. And then He took them to the feast, and all was well.
Therefore, stay awake. And if you cannot stay awake, don’t despair. None of us stays awake. All we can do is wake up and repent. And if you wake up and repent, and find yourself looking foolish, stay the course. Don’t run away and buy what can’t be bought. Wait for the Bridegroom to give you the light you lack.
Whoever has ears, let him hear.