The allegory of the ten virgins is another clever way devised by Jesus to simplify for us our longing for admission to the endless Wedding Feast of Heaven. This is how we could put this longing into modern terms paraphrasing Jesus’ concluding statement: Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:13) “Live your life, daily, the way American kids live the days and nights before Christmas.”
Their behavior improves dramatically. It is much easier for Mom and Dad to get them to do their chores; they are willing to cooperate, to obey; they are totally focused on what they hope to find under the Christmas tree; they prepare milk and cookies for Santa, and they live with the highest degree of expectation that they can muster.
Well, this is what the five prudent virgins did as they got ready for the arrival of the Bridegroom. And this is what the five foolish virgins failed to do and wound up being shut out of the Wedding Feast.
Some basic considerations are in order…
Heaven is described by Jesus, in this allegory, as a Wedding with himself as the divine Groom, but no Bride is mentioned! The Bride, of course, is all of us as Church. As members of the Church, Bride of the Lamb, we are sealed forever in Lord’s ageless embrace of Life and Love, if we spend our days on earth focused on him, filled with intense expectation for the Wedding Feast and we are proactive in procuring the extra oil needed in case of his delay.
A second consideration. Regardless of being prudent or foolish bridesmaids, we are bound to succumb to exhaustion, doze off and fall asleep because we are mere human beings. There is a charming painting by Norman Rockwell depicting two little boys sound asleep on an easy chair while waiting for Santa to arrive. Their expectation was so intense that it had drained them of all their energies and fell asleep before Santa’s arrival. We can take comfort in this: our human frailty, imperfections, shortcomings, and sins are not keeping God from crouching down on us and showering us with his grace and generous gifts.
The opposite is true. Let us keep in mind that what irritate the scribes and Pharisees of all times is the fact that Jesus seeks out, welcomes, associates with, eats [the Eucharist] with, and fills with uncontainable joy those who openly admit their sinfulness and welcome his healing touch.
A third consideration. All ten were virgins. Yet the five foolish ones were greeted with the most chilling reply ever: “Amen, truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Biblically, this “knowledge” to which Jesus refers is the intimacy between groom and bride, between husband and wife as they become one flesh. Hence, what makes the difference between eternal, joyful intimacy and irreversible separation from the Groom is not what is noticeable on the outside but what is in one’s heart.
Our heart, or more precisely, the core of our being, is truly that most precious part of our self which is disclosed and opened to God’s scrutiny more than to ours. What the divine Groom finds in it makes the difference between being known in an eternal embrace of love and being rejected.
Those who risk hearing those chilling words are people who go from day to the next by force of habit, slowed down by boredom, flatness, and lack of enthusiasm. Those chilling words are for people whose heart has been robbed of a burning desire for the divine Bridegroom. Those chilling words are for people who go through the motions after the flame of vigilant expectation has been extinguished by a thousand different matters, all deemed more important and more compelling than love for the Groom.
Therefore, perhaps the following are some questions we can try to answer so that we may be numbered among the prudent and foresighted virgins admitted to the banquet hall of Heaven.
How often do I think of Christ Jesus in a day? Do I find Jesus lovable above myself, my life, and anyone else? How far am I from being able to state truthfully that Jesus is everything for me? Is my longing for Jesus’ everlasting embrace so intense that my whole day is shaped around this longing, or am I easily sidetracked by so many other matters? Are my daily prayers coming from the recesses of my heart and preparing me to love Jesus “horizontally” in my neighbor or can they become a pious excuse keeping me from loving people the way Jesus tells me to love them?
It is a simple exercise to be repeated during the week to increase the intensity of our longing for our divine Groom, while we build up that expectation by hearing his voice in Holy Scripture and elsewhere, and by being nourished by his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. These Eucharistic Celebrations, these repeated rehearsals packed with expectation will enable us to cope with our human frailty and still be well prepared for the most important encounter ever with a plentiful supply of the oil of charity and love.