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Lectio Divina - 32nd Sunday of the Year

Wise and Foolish Bridesmaides – 2003 by Jim Jankgnet

Jim Janknegt was born in Austin, Texas in 1953 and after art studies he

began exhibiting his work in many galleries and museums around

Texas. Janknegt and his family converted to Catholicism in 2005 (from

Anglicanism) and were received into full communion in 2007.

In his modern-day makeovers of the New Testament narratives,

American Suburbia takes the place of first-century Palestine;

flashlights stand in for oil lamps. As Janknegt explains: "Jesus used

everyday imagery in his parables, not overt religious symbols. Each

generation needs artists who are willing to translate his imagery so

that the stories can be 'owned' again."


Matthew 25: 1-13

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven will

be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the

bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the

foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the

sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom

was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight

there was a cry, ‘The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.’ At

this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the

foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil: our

lamps are going out.’ But they replied, ‘There may not be enough for

us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for

yourselves.’ They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived.

Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the

door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later, ‘Lord, Lord,’

they said ‘open the door for us.’ But he replied, ‘I tell you solemnly,

I do not know you.’ So stay awake, because you do not know either

the day or the hour.”



Autumn leaves falling, reminds us every living thing comes to an

end. The last three weeks of the Church year gives us three

precise extracts from the last great discourse of Jesus, a

regrouping of teachings about the end times that Matthew groups

together: Announcing the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem

(24:1. 25). Invitation to be vigilant for the coming of the Son of

Man (24:26.44). Three parables about vigilance; the servant

awaiting his master’s return, the ten virgins, the talents (24:45 –

25:30) and the last judgment (25:31:46).

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins

who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Jesus gives us an image of beauty, of youth and joy at the

beginning. The elegance of these maidens is underlined by their

action; they are carrying lit oil lamps, walking in the night. They

are invited guests to an engagement; someone is getting

married; the bridegroom is waiting for them. The Old Testament

texts present God as a bridegroom of Israel (Isaiah 54:5 For your

Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of

Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Ezekiel

16:8-14 When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the

age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered

your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you,

declares the Lord God, and you became mine). When Matthew wrote

this story, the nuptial image was clearly very old: It is the person

of Jesus who is this mysterious bridegroom and the Church (each

of us) who is loved. St. Paul almost apologizing, dared to write: I

am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to

Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him (2Cor 11.2).

Engagement, Marriage, Love… Images of beauty, of life, of

happiness. This parable has us penetrate the heart of Jesus: he

is considered as a bridegroom; he loves. It is an image in all the

gospels: i.e.) Mark 2:19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the

bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have

him with them. John 3:29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend

who attends the bridegroom, waits and listens for him and is full of joy when

he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish

ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The

wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.

We can already surmise that Jesus isn’t simply telling us a nice

little story. We can remember that when Jesus is telling this

parable, the context is dramatic; Jesus is only days away from

his violent death, he had just been aggressively insulted by the

Pharisees: Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

You snakes… I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of

them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and

pursue from town to town (Matt. 23: 32-34).

The Greek word used for foolish, has strong connotations, not

just forgetful or thoughtless, it connotes lack of wisdom. The

Biblical sense of fool or foolish is not simply one lacking

intelligence; but some impious, morally deficient; one who is a

fool for opposing God: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They

are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good (Psalm 14:1).

In the Bible, such a person is described as one who builds his

house on sand and does not put the words of Jesus into practice:

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into

practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24); You

blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold

sacred? (Matt 23:17). The five foolish virgins are not then simply

brainless cuties or distracted. It’s a fundamental spiritual attitude

that is the cause. The wise is the one who founds their life on

God. The fool relies only on their own poor, human resources.

The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all

became drowsy and fell asleep.

If the story was just a description of an ordinary wedding, this

detail would be quite implausible, but this is symbolic language.

In the eschatological discourse, where this parable is found, this

detail becomes a powerful point. It is the same idea as the

servant who while awaiting his master’s return, begins acting

badly, getting drunk… because his master is late coming back

(Matt 24:48-49).

Wait! Wait because someone is late in coming. In our Creed we

say we await the return of Jesus; He will come again in glory…

This meeting is unpredictable. Jesus is warning us of the risk to

fall asleep, to forget… is serious. The image of slumber/sleep is

gripping; to sleep your Christian life away instead if living it.

Having to wait for God, who is tardy, who stays, seemingly far

away, and we end up getting tired… It expresses becoming

lukewarm, following a routine, numbness.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come

out to meet him.

It is always the night when God comes: But understand this: If

the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was

coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also

must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour

when you do not expect him (Luke 13:39-40). Therefore keep

watch because you do not know when the owner of the house

will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when

the rooster crows, or at dawn (Mark 13:35).

The cry! The cry that tears the night. The scene is deliberately

made dramatic. This cry surprises everyone: God comes

unexpectedly (the hour no one thought); Dazzling like lightning:

For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the

west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matt 24:27). The

only moment, truly important for each of us, is exactly that one:

the moment of God… the moment of encounter, the moment

where for each of us, eternity crosses time and decimates it as

in a sudden cry – Rina Fisacella. No one knows when. Jesus

advises to be ready, we have been warned, once and for all.

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.

They all fell asleep, wise and foolish, they all failed in waiting.

Symbolically, they were all unfaithful. The Lord is not shocked by

our weaknesses, but what does he expect of us? That we simply

keep our lamp lit. The Lord doesn’t ask of us the impossible; just

that we remain vigilant, a small lamp that continues to watch,

while we sleep. I was asleep, but my heart was awake…

(Canticle of Canticles 5:2). We know that we do not love the Lord

enough, but each day we can grow in His love.

The foolish ones said to the wise, Give us some of your oil;

our lamps are going out. No, they replied, there may not be

enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell

oil and buy some for yourselves. But while they were on

their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.

At this point in the story, one may think the wise virgins are being

selfish, but this is a parable and carries a lesson, of course Jesus

isn’t saying one should think only of themselves, refusing to offer

help when asked… keep your riches for yourself. This detail is

emphasised, like one who draws a caricature, to make sure we

see it clearly…

The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding

banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came.

‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us! But he replied,

‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.

The foolish virgins were not ready, they tried, they ended up

lighting their lamp again, but they were too late! Like the others,

they arrived at the door of the wedding, but too late! Jesus is

telling us, we do not choose the hour. It speaks not of an ordinary

spouse but the eschatological judge, the Lord! Not everyone who

says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but

only the one who does the will of my Father who is in

heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not

prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and

in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them

plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! (Matt


Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or

the hour.

This terrible phrase brings out all the seriousness of our human

freedom. In biblical language, the fools, were rejected entry and

stayed outside the wedding hall because they first rejected God.

The judgement given by the Lord translates, that got what they

deserved by their own behaviour. The parable ends with the

implied questions: Am I prepared? Am I watchful?


Holy Spirit, help us to be vigilant and to have presence of mind

to sense the enemy’s spiritual attacks on us. Lord help us to know

the words we need to speak into our lives: words of truth that you

give us. Bring scripture to mind that will help us to combat the

enemy’s lies. Thank you for the gift of wisdom, quiet the foolish

thoughts that would threaten to overwhelm us and help us to lock

on to the good things that you have for us: thoughts of you, and

how to bless others. Thank you Lord, we love you.


Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not

about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern

yourself not with what you have tried and failed in , but with what it is

still possible for you to do. – Pope St. John XXIII

If you want peace, work for justice. – Pope Paul VI

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the

deep and let down your nets for a catch. – Pope St, John Paul II

The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You

were made for greatness. – Pope Benedict XVI

Love is an act of endless forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to action

and freedom. – Pope Francis

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