With Lighted Lamps
Weddings in Jesus’ time were elaborate events that put our celebrations to shame. While not much is known about many details, we do know that marriage was usually an agreed-upon union between two families and their children. Girls were considered eligible for marriage at about 13 or 14 years old. The marriage starts with the betrothal – similar to our engagement period, however, the couple was considered legally married at betrothal. The woman would usually stay with her family until the actual wedding.
At the end of the betrothal period, which could last a year, the groom would initiate the marriage celebration by coming to the bride’s home after sunset. He would then take her to their new home, with an elaborate procession led by maidens (like the virgins in Jesus’ parable today), and at their home he would host a feast that could last a week. It was a great honor to go to that feast, and it was a matter of honor for the groom and his bride (remember how Mary was worried about the embarrassment of running out of wine at the wedding at Cana).
This is the context of Jesus’ story today. The ten virgins are members of the community who were expected to be the “headlights” of their procession in the evening. They were invited to the feast and had a definite role to play. Their “lamps” were most likely torches, with cloth tied onto a good stick. The oil was to dip the cloth in so that it would burn brightly.
As they wait for the groom, Jesus tells us that he was long delayed, and they fell asleep. I can’t blame them – it was getting late. However, when he finally did come, their lamps would have dwindled down and would have needed to be trimmed and relit. Those with oil had no problem because they were prepared; the others, however, scrambled to get help. The response of the wise virgins might seem selfish and unfair; however, that is not the point of the story.
The foolish ones did nothing to prepare for the possibility of waiting and losing some of the light. That is why Jesus labels them as “foolish” (the Greek word is moraì, whence we get “moron”). They cannot rely on the preparedness of others – the work of others – to bring them any help. Therefore, the wise ones go ahead and lead the procession. They enter the feast and enjoy the honor of sharing fellowship with the bride and groom.
The message of this parable is clear: Jesus wants us to be prepared to welcome Him whenever He comes, and we may not know when that encounter is going to happen. Even if we have to wait, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the fact that we are awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. In this time that we have to wait, we are supposed to tend to our lights so that we can be those “headlights” for a procession that leads to the celebration of life and union with the Bride and Groom.
You young people who are with us today and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation should be able to identify with these ten virgins. They are young people like yourselves. They are waiting for something important, like all of us. They are also under the pressures of the world to pay attention to so many other things: Facebook posts, news stories, political arguments, TikTok dances, peer pressure, and the innate desire of all of us to be liked and loved. Some of them allow themselves to be distracted by these things – as I am sure you and all of us do from time to time. However, there are also those who recognize the deep importance of their connection to the Groom, and their duty to be ready for Him. They are not simply bowed in prayer all the time; but they are prepared by tending to their lamps so that they are completely open to the Groom when he does arrive.
This is the challenge that you face, my young friends. Many of you commented to me about how your preparation for this Sacrament has brought you closer to Jesus and to your faith. Your lamps have been trimmed, and you are joyfully welcoming the Bridegroom now as He comes to you. But your work is just beginning! Now, we look to you to be the headlights leading us all on our journey toward that wedding feast of Jesus and the Church. We have much faith and hope in you, and Jesus will not let you down!
We don’t want to be the foolish ones – the “morons.” We want to reach the point of welcoming the Bridegroom and being about to share the joy of the procession, with our lights burning brightly. It is, in fact, what we are advised at our Baptisms. When we receive the candle lit from the Paschal flame, we are told, “Keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
Our life of faith is the oil that we keep for our lamps – the deeds of holiness that we are inspired to do by faith are signs that we take the Groom’s arrival very seriously. When Jesus comes, may we be ready to meet Him with joy, and enter the eternal wedding feast of heaven.