Year A: Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!

Matthew 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.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this parable apply to your life specifically? Have you experienced being spiritually prepared or unprepared when Christ has come into your life? When has this happened for you? Explain
  2. If you were living your life to be “always ready” for the coming of the Lord, what new things would you be doing that you are not doing now?
  3. Why do you think the bridegroom does not recognize the foolish Virgins? Do you think there’s a relationship here between our ability to recognize Christ and the Christ recognizing us?
  4. One aspect of this passage is about waking up to the inner consciousness and outer action of Jesus. In what new ways might this be happening in you?

Biblical Context

Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ

Whereas our first reading praised Wisdom and those who seek her, Jesus tells a tale contrasting the foolish and the wise — obviously inviting us to consider who is who, then and now. Here the group is evenly divided with five wise and five foolish virgins – that’s a better scorecard than we got in Matthew 22:14 where we heard that many were called but only a few chosen.

Jesus told this story, but except for the obscure detail about the wise virgins having extra oil on hand, he didn’t really explain what makes one wise or foolish. To understand that, we need to go back to what he said in Matthew 7:24-26: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock … And everyone who listens … but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.”

The difference between foolishness and wisdom is that the wise hear the word and put it into practice. That was not a new revelation; Jesus was drawing on his tradition when he said it. Proverbs 13:9 tells us: “The light of the just gives joy, but the lamp of the wicked goes out.” The idea is that the wicked or foolish create nothing worthwhile in their lives. As all creation is moving toward union with God, they have played no part in the drama of advancing toward that end. The little light they had simply fades away.

When we interpret this parable in the context of other parts of Matthew’s Gospel, we get the idea that the wise virgins’ oil of preparedness came from rocksolid habits of putting Jesus’ words into practice.

In his 2017 homily for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis could have been commenting on this parable when he said: “Let us ask ourselves if we are parlor Christians, who love to chat about how things are going in the Church and the world, or apostles on the go, who confess Jesus with their lives because they hold him in their hearts.”

The parables that come toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel are all calling us to look at our heart. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins asks us about our commitment for the long haul. Are we like the five who went to the house with just enough oil to check out what was happening? They were there for the entertainment, like people who knew about the bride and groom but who didn’t have a significant attachment to them or the celebration. In contrast, the wise young women had been saving up for this occasion. They went early and planned to stay late. The wise ones had been practicing for this party. Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm. If the groom was late, that didn’t matter; they knew he would come.

In both their waking and their dreaming, they were ready.

Lighting Your Own Lamp

John Shea

When they asked Gandhi what his message was, he said, “My life is my message”.

St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”

The last words of the Buddha to his followers were, “Be a light unto yourself.”

Martin Luther cautioned, “You are going to die alone. You had better believe alone.”

Angelus Silesius asked, “What good if Gabriel hails the Virgin and does not hail me?’

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him” (GT 108).

There is a brief but hard-hitting story:

A man knocks on a door. The voice from inside says, “Who is it?” The man says, “It is your countryman.” The voice behind the door says, “There is no one here.”

The man wanders for a year, returns to the door, and knocks a second time. The voice from inside says, “Who is it?” The man says, “It is your brother.” The voice behind the door says, “There is no one here.”

The man wanders for a year, returns to the door, and knocks a third time. The voice from inside says, “Who is it?” The man says, “It is you.” The door opens.

How does Christ know us? He knows us when he looks into our face and sees himself.

There is a delicate balance in the following of Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus is the Lord and Master and remains so. Although his disciples may do greater things than he has, as the Gospel of John (14:12) predicts, they will do them in communion with his Spirit. No one will take the place of Jesus, and at the end of time it will be he who judges the living and the dead. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the fullness in which everything else will either fit or be cast aside. Quite simply, as the Book of Revelation says, Jesus is the “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13).

Yet worshiping Jesus from afar with extravagant praise and petition is inappropriate. You cannot ride on his coattails. You must receive Christ into your self as a person would receive bread, put it into the mouth, and swallow it. Then Christ will be within you, building you up from the inside. Or you must receive Christ so thoroughly that he will awaken you to your identity as a child of God. Then as a child of God you would be on God’s mission and the divine pleasure would flow through you. This integration of Christ into your life means transformation. When it is occurring, you will understand Paul’s cry: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

This balance is difficult to maintain. We simultaneously say, “There is only one Lord and Master” and “You are another Christ.” But the parable of the ten virgins is very clear about where a prevalent danger lies. We know everything about him except the one thing necessary (see Luke 10:42): we are called to be him. But if we take into ourselves his truth so that it becomes our truth, then the door opens.

Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.