Ordinary 32 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 25: 1 — 13
This reading takes us into our Lord’s final sermon (probably at Bethany) before his arrest and crucifixion.
The scene for the parable is a traditional Jewish wedding. It was the custom to have ten bridesmaids (referred to as virgins, i.e. unmarried girls) who gathered beforehand at the bride’s house where the wedding ceremony would be held. There they would wait for the bridegroom. Upon word that he had left his house and was on his way, they would go out to meet him, and join his retinue for a formal entry at the bride’s home. Weddings were almost always at night and so oil lighting was necessary.
Once more, this is a parable, not an allegory. No mystical meaning
is to be found in the oil, the two groups of “five”, nor in the fact that
they all went to sleep, etc., nor are we to waste time over the
improbability of shops being open at mid-night or indeed of a
marriage-feast beginning then.
The whole point is that the Lord will come unexpectedly, and that
all ought so to live as to be prepared for His Coming, which may
be “delayed”. C. C. Martindale, S. J.
It is interesting that Jesus relates this parable towards the close of his teaching ministry. Later we shall see why.
Some Reflections on our Text
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took
their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Then refers to the coming of the Son of Man, and what it will be like. This signals that He is about to tell a parable which will have a focus on the consummation of the Kingdom at the end of time. The parable proper then follows.
There is a strong temptation to allegorise the whole of this parable, which C. C. Martindale (above) advises us not to do. However since this sentence is the opening scene provided by Jesus, we can legitimately identify the three key components given here. They are:
• “the Kingdom of heaven” — The reign of God
(See Appendix: The Kingdom of God)
• “ten virgins”
— The word “virgins” denotes all the believers in Christ, for as Jesus is
the bridegroom (See Matt. 9: 25) so is the Church His bride
(see Eph. 5: 25 also 2 Cor. 11: 2) including every believing soul.
(A. J. Maas, S. J.)
• — The “virgins”, the friends of the bride, are the members of the
Church. All Christians are virgins spiritually, in as much as they
are not contaminated by heresy. (See Rev. 14: 4 etc.)
(L. H. Hartman, C.S.S.R. and M. Kennedy, O. F. M.)
• “the bridegroom” — The bridegroom is Christ. The bride is His
Church. (Compare this especially with Revelation 22: 17 where the bride longs
for His Coming.)
Now we have the main players, let’s see how our Lord uses them.
Verses 2 — 5
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.
Our Lord calls five young light bearers provident or careful; and five careless in that they did not see or discern what is proper or necessary, as they should have.
The word “lamps” here generally refers to torches of oil-soaked rags on a stick rather than clay table-lamps. The wise took a small flask of oil with them to pour on their torches as the flame died down. The “foolish” ones took it for granted the bridegroom would come within a time frame they had assumed.
They assumed he would conform to their expectations. Verses 5 and 13 form the core of this parable. Any assumptions out of step with bridegroom’s intentions were foolish.
The bridegroom was late, or more literally, long in coming. All ten bridesmaids dosed off, quite harmlessly and reasonably, waiting for the signal to move off.
Verses 6 and 7
In the middle of the night there was a sudden commotion.
At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!
Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
All the young ladies jumped to and trimmed the burnt rag off the torches to increase the flames for improved lighting. Despite the trimming, the lamps all started to die out, due to the lack of oil. Those who had brought an extra supply of oil quickly dabbed it on the torches and immediately the torches lit up. The trouble is, only five had brought extra oil to cover for the extended waiting time.
As a matter of interest, the reference to “midnight” has end-time connotations to it.
C. C. Martindale, S. J. makes the comment:
Perhaps the tradition of the midnight advent of the destroying
Angel in Egypt continued itself in the tradition of Christ’s birth at
midnight, and St. Jerome says that in his day “an apostolic tradition
survived, so that on the day of the Easter Vigil no one was allowed
to leave (the church), expecting the Advent of Christ”#.
# Advent here means the Final Coming, to which Passover, Easter
(an old English term meaning Pasch, or Passover), and the
celebration of the Eucharist all point.
Verses 8 and 9
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
So, when the foolish asked the others to share what they had brought, they explained they couldn’t. The whole purpose of the lamps was to ensure there was adequate light for everyone. If they had shared, it was likely none of the torches would last long enough: and that would have been irresponsible of them. Accordingly, the foolish were sent off to buy some extra oil.
Verses 10 — 12
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.’
Things have become a bit tense. The unwise light bearers have suddenly realised what it is to miss out on something very special. They plead (Kyrie — O Lord) to be admitted. But the “Lord” rejects them quite decisively, and the verdict is final! Without a deep, personal relationship nurtured over time, the Lord simply says, “I do not know you”.
They are left aghast, wondering, “How could this possibly happen to us?” But it is too late for all that!
Here ends the parable abruptly!
So the point has now been reached where the parable clearly shows itself as an advance and privileged intimation of the end time. If the unwise have neglected to respect the situation of the bridegroom, and to be prepared for what eventuates, they have chosen their own fate. The bridegroom can only say to them, “I do not recognise anything in your words or actions with which I can identify!”
To round off this very poignant warning, our Lord speaks directly to His listeners.
Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor
This does not mean, thinking back to the ten bridesmaids, “stay awake”. It means “keep watching”, in other words, “Keep your attention focussed on me and not someone who has their own agenda no matter how impressively or forcibly they pursue it.”
1. The parable is a warning from Jesus to His disciples not to assume that their future is automatically assured!
• They must exercise foresight and very great discernment.
They must plan carefully. It is true they must remain constantly
listening to Him in their hearts and minds, but it means even more.
They must accumulate knowledge and understanding as well as
build a culture of obedience and living “in Christ”. They are
responsible for looking ahead and making proper provision for the future.
• They are not to be obsessed with calculating the return of Jesus
based on Old Testament prophecies and “signs” which they observe
or see into events. This has become a preoccupation with some
Christians who make all manner of predictions based on their
2. “The Church has more to do than passively wait.” (Blaiklock) This is all the more true if people think they should sit back and watch prophecy unfold. Rather, we are called to be active in building the Kingdom of God.
To be passive is to be at risk. We are called to remain fully engaged and alert to dangers which are always nearby. Again we repeat the desperate need to rebuild Christian culture with great urgency.
3. In the story Jesus told, His point is not the surprise of his coming, but the apparent delay, and what can happen. The five unwise bridesmaids took it upon themselves to set the time for the bridegroom’s arrival. Translated into the contemporary Church, we find it commonplace today for ambitious people to (consciously or unconsciously) make demands on God, in effect, to conform to their personal version of what should happen. This results in all sorts of distortion to the Gospel message; in other words, foolish meandering off the path traced for us by Jesus.
Not surprisingly, both religious and non-religious people in our society consider much of what they see in radio / TV Christianity as “screwball” and “weird”. Who can blame them! Our Lord was very emphatic that His followers would devoutly take their lead from Him and not dare to make presumptions, nor turn religion into entertainment — in some cases, a circus!
4. “Keep watch” means: “Be prepared for the Lord’s return.” It means remain in a state of high alert. We are therefore to keep our inner sight on Him. This must be achieved at all costs, and every means to do so must be utilised. Being prepared is an entirely personal responsibility and failure to do so will be judged accordingly. Thus we will be held accountable for allowing daily cares and anxieties to push God’s Word (Jesus Christ) aside or allow ourselves to forget His Teaching.
All the prophetic messages we need to respond to this call can be found in our Lord’s own teaching. # We are to listen to Him and discern His message and, meet His very specific requirements. We are not to hike off all round the Old Testament putting together the most fascinating “prophecy” we can, like a jig-saw of quotations.
# It is there we will discover which Old Testament prophecies He highlights for our benefit.
Many claim today to be the “voice of prophecy” but rarely give us real insight into the teachings of Yeshua, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. One only has to listen a little to them to discover why: they do not have their heart set on listening to Him. They fascinate their audience with an assortment of signs and wonders but they lack spiritual depth to help people hear the straightforward teaching of Jesus. The spiritually alert and awake will discern that something is seriously wrong!
5. Throughout the Gospel of St. Matthew there are references to “partial comings” of the Son of Man before the final return. Our Lord is therefore constantly emphasising the message, “Be ready”. But it mustn’t stop at pious platitudes — we must take our Lord seriously. That means:—
• Be prepared for any hour of testing that may come unannounced;
• Be willing to resist any temptation to relax standards;
• Be skilled and confident to meet any crisis;
• Be open and energetic to grasp any God-given opportunity. (Bruce)
6. Spiritual preparedness cannot be distributed around like “free passses” in a crisis. We cannot rely on another person’s moral life and spiritual graces when a time of testing suddenly engulfs us. If we allow the delay in the Lord’s Return to let us ease up on our standards or our religious practice — or perhaps even to develop a somewhat fickle attitude towards His Return, then, in His judgment we are doomed, literally!
We close with a short quotation from R Cox:
“But what is important in our Lord’s teaching is not the surprise; it is the delay of His coming. This may prove a greater trial of faith than all the terrifying calamities, such as the destruction of Jerusalem (see 2 Peter chapter 3). Apathy can be more perilous for the Christian than persecution.”
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Agape Bible Study — 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
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Appendix: The Kingdom of God
The double aspect of the kingdom as present reality and future reality is apparent in the parables of the kingdom (Mt. 13; 18: 23 — 35; 20: 1 — 16;
(Excerpt from, Dictionary of the Bible, by John L. McKenzie, S. J.
“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Ordinary 32 Year A St. Matthew 25: 1 to 13
1. It is easy to find reasons for believing we are “saved” or “members” of a
2. Much contemporary Christianity has settled down to a nice, comfortable interface with modern Western culture, and doesn’t “get too upset” about
Our age calls for a very profound “internal audit” of our Faith and how we
3. The coming of the Messiah in Hebrew Christian culture is highlighted in
Let’s pray for one another to keep our focus on our Beloved Messiah and His
Matthew 25: 1 — 13
Ordinary 32 Year A
1 1 “Then 2 the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
2 3 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
3 The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no
4 but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
5 Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all
6 At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!
7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of
9 But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be
10 While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and
11 4 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord,
12 But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know
13 Therefore, stay awake, 5 for you know neither the day
1 [1-13] Peculiar to Matthew.
2  Then: at the time of the parousia. Kingdom . . . will be like: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 13:24-30.
3 [2-4] Foolish . . . wise: cf the contrasted “wise man” and “fool” of ⇒ Matthew 7:24, ⇒ 26 where the two are distinguished by good deeds and lack of them, and such deeds may be signified by the oil of this parable.
4 [11-12] Lord, Lord: cf ⇒ Matthew 7:21. I do not know you: cf ⇒ Matthew 7:23 where the Greek verb is different but synonymous.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised