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
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
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