When thinking about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, it is important to consider the first-century wedding traditions of Palestine. The high point of the wedding ceremony occurred when the groom, accompanied by his relatives, went to the family house of the bride to transfer her to his home. It is here that the rest of the ceremony took place. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. (vv. 3-4). The wise bridesmaids are different from the foolish bridesmaids at only one point—they have the foresight to take flasks of oil to replenish their lamps. Both the foolish and wise bridesmaids sleep, but the wise bridesmaids first prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival. They have lamps and oil, and are set to greet the bridegroom no matter when he might arrive. They are prepared—and preparedness is the point of this parable, not for the worst……. but for the best. Both the wise and foolish bridesmaids are prepared for the bridegroom’s coming, but only the wise bridesmaids are prepared for the bridegroom’s delay.
The "oil" in today’s parable symbolizes good works and deeds. Wise people are vigilant, like the bridesmaids in the Gospel story who brought not only their lamps (faith) but also enough oil (good works) to last the night. Wise people are those who are concerned for the daily needs in one's own family and also in the community - neighbors and even strangers.
How often do we have our lamps with us, but no oil to burn in them? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke about this:
What are the oil lamps in our lives?
They are the little everyday things: faithfulness, punctuality, kind words, thoughtfulness of another person, the way we are silent at times, the way we look at things, the way we speak, the way we act. Those are the little drops of love which make it possible for our life of faith to shine brightly.
The "oil" needed to keep our lamps burning brightly is often the little drops of love, kindness, patience, joy, selflessness, which make it possible for our life of faith to shine brightly.
The Christian community for whom Matthew wrote this Gospel was coming to terms with the realization that the promise of Jesus’ return would not be fulfilled within their lifetimes. In the 2nd reading we see that the idea of the Second Coming had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it very soon; they fully expected to be themselves alive when it came but they were worried about those Christians who had died. They could not be sure that those who had already died would share the glory of that day which was so soon to come. Paul's answer is that there will be one glory for those who have died and those who survive. He tells them that they must not sorrow as those who have no hope. Paul lays down a great principle. The man who has lived and died in Christ is still in Christ even in death and will rise in him.
The question remains for us to ask ourselves, Are we ready to receive Jesus? Will we be prepared to receive him? Do we have enough of oil to keep our lamps burning brightly to receive Jesus when He comes?