Matthew 25:1-12 tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids who went to meet the bridegroom’s wedding feast. Five wise virgins brought extra oil for their lamps, while the other five were foolish for they did not bring extra oil. The bridegroom was delayed, and while the five wise ones had enough oil to last through the night, the foolish five had to go out and buy oil. While they were away, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready with their burning lamps entered with him into the wedding banquet. When the foolish ones finally came back, the door was closed, and the bridegroom denied knowing them. The lesson Jesus teaches us with this parable is that we should always be ready for the hour of his return, which no one except the Father knows.
Many people, including St. Augustine, interpret the light of the lamps as the light of faith and good works, while the oil in the lamps is the virtue of charity which feeds and accompanies faith and works. Understood in light of this symbolism, it becomes obvious why each person is responsible for their own lamp. Within the context of the parable and the lesson Jesus is trying to teach, it is impossible to share one’s oil, and foolish to try and buy more oil. Each person can only be responsible for themselves. The wise virgins were ready for potentially adverse circumstances, and as a result they are recognized and accepted by the bridegroom. On the other hand, the foolish ones pay dearly for their imprudence. The bridegroom rejects them.
Nevertheless, read outside the context of this symbolism, the wise bridesmaids seem to fail in charity. While they may be applauded for their foresight, their selfish actions toward their fellow bridesmaids are appalling. They do not have compassion when the foolish ones beg them to share some oil. Yes, they are wise, but they are not compassionate. It may be possible that had they shared some of their oil, there would not have been enough for any of the bridesmaids. However, in that case, perhaps the bridegroom, upon learning about their compassion and generosity, would have commended the wise bridesmaids even more, and he may have even ended up letting everyone in.
When stepping outside of the parable in this manner, I have often wondered whether it would have been wise and compassionate for the virgins to bring enough oil for themselves and their companions. Each of us does not enter heaven by himself or herself. To some extent, we are also responsible for our companions. We may have burning lamps in our hands when the Lord comes, but we will also have to answer for our fellow companions. Thus, we see the goal of intercessory prayer and of Dominican preaching; that is, working towards our own salvation by dedicating ourselves to the salvation of those around us. By the grace of God and through the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary and Blessed Father Dominic, may our light never be hidden, but shine brightly for all to see.
Br. Martin Maria Nguyen, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE