“Then 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. – Matthew 25:1-13
This parable is all about being prepared for the final coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus sums up the principal message of the parable when he says, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” when the bridegroom will come.
Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is his bride. In the parable the bridegroom is described as being “long delayed” in his coming. Many members of the Church have anticipated the second coming of Christ and have been watchful of that coming. It seems that Jesus the bridegroom has been long delayed as the Church has remained vigilant for nearly 2,000 years. We do not know the day nor the hour of Jesus’ coming, for all we know it could be another 2,000 years until he returns. No matter how delayed the bridegroom may be we are called to be prepared.
Being prepared is much more than an attitude, being prepared involves action. For example, whenever my parents host our relatives at their house for Thanksgiving, a lot of preparation is done. My parents begin cleaning and decorating their house a few days or even a few weeks in advance. The cooking doesn’t begin when the guests arrive and ring the doorbell, rather the mashed potatoes and various side dishes are usually prepared by my mother a day or two ahead of time, and the enormous Turkey is placed in the oven sometime much earlier in the day.
To be prepared for Thanksgiving requires action. Even preparing for something that is intellectual such as taking an exam or writing a paper involves action. Prior to any test or essay, a student does plenty of preparatory reading and studying. In order to be prepared for something, whether that thing is physical or mental, action is necessary.
What is involved in being prepared for the coming of the bridegroom? In the parable, oil is what distinguishes the prepared from the unprepared and the wise from the foolish. The wise virgins had plenty of oil, while the foolish virgins were lacking. The parable makes clear that the oil is something that cannot necessarily be shared between the virgins. And the oil is described as something that cannot be gained instantaneously or at the last minute, rather it has to be gathered well in advance and over time.
Many saints and commentators have suggested that the oil in the parable represents good deeds.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “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.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Clearly light and lamps are associated with good deeds. Thus, being wise and prepared for the coming of the bridegroom involves not only faith, but also works of charity. Love is more than a sentiment, it involves action. Preparedness is more than an attitude, it involves action.
Good deeds are something that some people possess plenty of, while others possess very little of.
We may be like a virgin, spotless, unstained by sin, but do we possess good works? It is one thing to not really be a bad person, it is another thing to be an actively good person. Good deeds are not something that we can take from someone else. At the second coming of Christ I can’t ask Mother Teresa if I can borrow some of her charity so that I can be admitted to the wedding banquet.
Good deeds are not something that we can acquire immediately. At the second coming of Christ I can’t suddenly attempt to acquire within a few minutes those good deeds that are built up over the course of a lifetime.
We are called to be prepared or as the parable puts it “to stay awake.” Works of charity must always supplement faith. Having our lamps lit suggests having plenty of works of charity to keep the flame of faith burning in our hearts, so that when the Lord comes, we may go out to meet him.