Year A 32nd Sunday: Matthew 25:1-13

25:01 'Then the kingdom of Heaven will be like this:
Ten wedding attendants took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
25:02 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible:
25:03 the foolish ones, though they took their lamps, took no oil with them,
25:04 whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.
25:05 The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
25:06 But at midnight there was a cry, "Look! The bridegroom! Go out and meet him."
25:07 Then all those wedding attendants woke up and trimmed their lamps,
25:08 and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones,
"Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out."
25:09 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."
25:10 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.
25:11 The other attendants arrived later. "Lord, Lord," they said, "open the door for us."
25:12 But he replied, "In truth I tell you, I do not know you."
25:13 So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.


This parable is an explanation of Jesus’ words spoken in the Sermon of the Mount. There he said to his disciples, ‘You are the light of the world’. Light means ‘showing God’s characteristics’: charity, love, mercy, grace. That light must shine and be visible. ‘Don’t put a lamp under the tub’ (5:14-16).

First Jesus compares his disciples with light, but some moments later with a lamp. In the parable of the ten ‘virgins’ (not ‘wedding attendants’) Jesus uses the same imagery: my lamp will give light when I demonstrate God’s characteristics in my life. When I don’t choose them I don’t have oil and my lamp doesn’t give light. At the end of the parable the king says to the virgins who come too late, ‘I don’t know you’ (vs.12) which means ‘my light does not shine through you.’

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, ‘It is not anyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingship of heaven.’ (7:21).That is exactly what happens in the parable of the ten virgins (25:11). They say, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us’ (vs.11). But the Lord doesn’t do that. Why shall they not enter? ‘Then I shall tell them to their faces, ‘”I have never known you. Away from me, all you evil doers!” (7:23).

Exactly again what happens in the parable of the ten virgins. No entrance for evil doers. Evil doers are people who don’t shed Jesus’ light, who don’t choose God’s characteristics in their lives: charity, love, mercy, grace.


Keywords are ‘wise’ (here translated ‘sensible’) and ‘foolish’. In the Bible ‘wisdom’ has a special meaning. When I am able to connect every aspect of my life with God’s commandments: that is ‘wisdom’. ‘Wisdom’ is living according to God’s Law. The contrary is ‘foolishness’.

Once more we go back to the Sermon of the Mount. There Jesus says to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth...’ (5:13). Salt is an image for the Spirit of God. Then Jesus continues (I translate the Greek text as literally as possible), ‘... but if the salt becomes foolish(!) in what shall be salted?’

Picture Meditation

At the bottom of the painting  we see the ten virgins sleeping. Five of them have a burning candle in their hands; the other five…; nothing to see. Then the king approaches in the top left corner.

The moon indicates that it is in the midst of the night. Along the diagonal between these two scenes a separation takes place. In the centre the five without light show their extinguished candles dramatically. The five with light are following the king through the gate of his feast.

In the lower left corner we see the other five on their way to buy some oil. They have to dive under the tunnel of the pink road; at the other side we see them again now with lightened candles, filled by a merchant woman who is just visible on the right side of the painting. But the gate remains closed. Is it the king himself - without his crown -  who speaks to them over the edge of the wall? Or is it a servant?

In the background we see how the first five virgins enjoy a heavenly meal in companionship with the king.

Looking at the composition of this painting I realise that the five virgins without light are placed in the centre of the painting. All together they are pictured four times. The other five on the other hand only three times. What could be the meaning of that?

What does all this do to me? Am I one of the virgins with a burning candle? Living according to God’s characteristics? Can I say of myself that I am (God’s) light in our world?

And what is the meaning of the two little women, clothed in red, in the lower left and right corners? Can I identify myself with one of them?

Post scriptum

Isn’t it a little bit cruel and egoistic that the five virgins with burning lights refuse to give of their light to the other ones? I have to keep in mind that Jesus is speaking about the discerning moment in my life. When I am ‘sleeping’. Image of my death?

We could compare this with a final examination. On that moment I cannot copy the text of the person besides me, neither can I say, ‘Give me something of your knowledge.’ I should have spent the time before the examination to collect the knowledge.

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J