With the last Sunday of this month, November 27, we will begin Advent, which will launch us into a new Church year. In the meantime the Church suggests we use these last three Sundays of this Church year to evaluate our lives, to arrive at a true estimate of how we stand with God. (And if we are failing miserably by God’s standards, we could use our poor standing as a goad to make us better ourselves.)
The three Gospels for the next three Sundays supply us with the criteria God will use in evaluating our lives. The three main criteria are found in the parables of Jesus we will read the next three Sundays. The first parable is today’s story about the wise and foolish virgins. The second parable is the man entrusting talents to his servants. The third parable is the one about the king separating the sheep from the goats. Those parables tell us that God will judge us mainly on first, if we have kept friendship for him alive in our hearts; secondly, if we have developed our God-given gifts; and thirdly, if we have been friends to those in need.
Today’s parable is woven on the frame of traditional Eastern weddings. With them, the groom and his groomsmen visit the village of the bride. After they are feasted there, they accompany the bride to the groom’s village for the wedding feast proper; and, young women from the groom’s village go a mile out to escort the bride to her new home. Since the feast in the bride’s village can run on till the food and drink are exhausted, the ten virgins in the story had no idea how long they would need to wait for the arrival of the wedding party.
Out of fear of the dark the five foolish virgins kept their lamps burning, with the sad result that they were out of oil when the wedding party made its appearance. They rushed off to buy oil, but to no avail. In coming to join the group they met the sad discovery that the party had passed in, and they were locked out.
What does the oil stand for? You may have other fine answers. I see it as friendship with God that can’t be sacrificed for other kinds of warmth or pleasure.
The first reading’s high estimate placed on Wisdom is in accord with seeing the oil as maintaining friendship with God. In the Bible wisdom is viewed as valuing eventual happiness over immediate pleasure.