Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

Posted by Thaddaeus

Matthew 25: 1-13

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  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.  At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  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 yourselves.’  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.’  Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


Background:  According to Church authorities, the Gospel of Matthew is written for his countrymen the Jews.  Most of the early Christians are Jewish-Christians.  Therefore, the parable of the ten virgins has more significance in modern western culture if it is viewed through the lens of ancient Jewish wedding customs.  In ancient Israel, when it was time for a son to marry, his father sends a servant to another village to find a wife for him with the best dowry the master can afford.  The betrothal begins when the terms are agreed and the bride-price is paid in full.  The betrothal is a one or two year binding agreement.  The bridegroom goes back to his father’s house to prepare a Chuppah (Heb., “bridal’s chamber”).  No one but the father knows when the addition is ready.  Meanwhile, the bride must be alert for his return.  Usually the bridegroom shows up at midnight; so, she must keep her oil lamp burning.


The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids:  St. Jerome teaches that the ten bridesmaids represent the whole human race.  St. Augustine teaches that the lamps they carry in their hands are their works.  The oil is the fruit of their works.  Oil also denotes joy.  Through baptism, God anoints us with the gladness of spirit.  The oil denotes charity, alms and every aid rendered to the needy.  It is the word of teaching.  St. Hilary says the lamps are light of bright souls that shine forth from the sacrament of Baptism; an absolute distinction between believers and unbelievers.  Five can also represent the five senses.  The senses can be wise or foolish; seeking divine life or the flesh.  The merchants are the poor who must rely on our charity and alms.  No one but the father knows when the final hour will come, or our own falling asleep.  Therefore, we must pray, give alms, educate ourselves in the faith and do works of mercy.