Wise and Foolish Virgins

20 Pentecost

A wedding is about to take place. The bridegroom has gone to the home of his bride’s parents, to sign the marriage contract with her father, and then bring his bride in a procession back to his house where the celebrations will begin. But the bridegroom is long delayed in his return. Perhaps the last-minute negotiations have bogged down.

First reading and psalm: Josh. 24:1-3a, 14-25Ps. 78:1-7

Alternate: Wis. 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24Wis. 6:17-20 or Ps. 701 Thess. 4:13-18Matt. 25:1-13

The bridegroom’s return at midnight reveals the wise and foolish among the young women who have been waiting to greet him. The foolish maidens are caught with their lamps flickering — and find themselves locked out of the marriage feast after going to buy more oil.

Biblical scholars generally interpret this parable as a symbolic commentary on the delay of Christ’s Second Coming. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the earliest Christians expected him to return within their lifetime to judge the world and inaugurate the kingdom of God.

Again and again, the Bible describes the kingdom of God as a wedding feast, with Christ as the bridegroom. In the parable, then, the cry at midnight, “Behold the Bridegroom,” evokes the imagery from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians: “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command.”

But the years went by, and the original generation of apostles and disciples began to die out. The bridegroom was delayed. Perhaps some Christians were tempted to give up on the hope that he would ever return, and grew lax in their faith. They had all been prepared and waiting at the beginning; but as time went on some of them found their faith flickering and growing dim, like the lamps of the foolish maidens.

The parable is thus a warning. Even though the bridegroom seems delayed in coming, we need to take care to remain alert, prepared, and ready to meet him. For when he does arrive at an unexpected hour, there will not be time to make the preparations that we should have been making all along.

This is, or should be, a large part of the reason we attend church on Sunday. We all need continuing spiritual formation, preparation, and conversion. All the classical Christian disciplines and practices — Eucharist, Office, daily prayer, spiritual reading, meditation, confession, retreats, and so forth — train us to prepare for the joy of heaven itself. There, we shall be caught up in continual praise and adoration of the Blessed Trinity; and here, Sunday-by-Sunday, our worship at the Eucharist affords us the opportunity to practice and get ready by experiencing an anticipatory foretaste of that heavenly glory. Similarly, if we hope to spend eternity with God, it’s a good idea to spend some time in prayer every day getting to know him now.

The Bridegroom is coming. But will we be ready to meet him? The classical spiritual disciplines and practices of the Christian faith are the oil by which we keep our lamps burning brightly, so that when the time comes, we may enter with joy into the endless celebration of the heavenly wedding feast.

Look It Up
Using a Concordance or Bible software, search for bridegroom, bride, marriage, and wedding in the New Testament. What patterns emerge?

Think About It
If you knew you had exactly one year left to live, what changes would you make to prepare to meet the Lord? Are these changes you could be making in your life now?

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