Whenever we hear two groups being compared in the Gospels by Jesus, we know that He is inviting us to make a discernment for our own lives. We could be tempted to use the comparison to judge or condemn others, but if we interpret it in that way we only condemn ourselves. Ten virgins waiting for Christ. Ten who have consecrated themselves, who have renounced the life of indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh. Jesus is telling us that even among those who have pledged fidelity and taken measures to conform their lives to the coming Kingdom, half are wise and half are foolish. Wisdom for the Christian, as we saw in the first reading from St. Paul, is the Cross: precisely the opposite of what the world considers intelligent. Foolishness has to do, according to the Gospel, with not having any oil for the lamp. How can a lamp burn brightly without any oil? Where did the wise virgins get their oil?
The oil is the power of the Cross. The Cross is so powerful because it manifests the fathomless depths of the Father’s merciful love for us. There is only one source for oil – the bridegroom Himself, Christ crucified. That Oil is Charity which burns in our hearts and produces good works. The foolish virgins have a dead faith, a faith that does not burn brightly in works of charity. All their works were to be seen, their apparent holiness and devotedness is a farce because it still depends on the wisdom of the world – the other vendors of oil. If the wise virgins may be lacking in oil, they have enough trust, love, and hope that the Bridegroom Himself will provide what is lacking if only they remain watching and waiting for His return.
If human wisdom is at war with the cross and fights against the gospel, it is not right to boast about it. Rather, we should recoil in shame.1
THEODORET OF CYR:
Anyone can baptize if he is a priest, but preaching is a gift given to few, and it must not be confused with mere eloquence, which is purely superficial.2
Given that men had rejected the contemplation of God and were looking for him in nature and in the material world, making gods for themselves out of mortal men and demons, the loving and general Savior of all, the Word of God, took to himself a body and walked about like a man, in order to meet the senses halfway, so that those who think that God is corporeal might perceive the truth by observing what the Lord accomplishes in his body, and through him recognize the Father.3
What has empowered us is belief in Christ crucified. To the extent that we are lacking something in our faith, then we are missing out on what the power of God has to offer us.4
The gospel produces the exact opposite of what people want and expect, but it is that very fact which persuades them to accept it in the end. The apostles won their case, not simply without a sign, but by something which appeared to go against all the known signs. The cross seems to be a cause of offense, but far from simply offending, it attracts and calls believers to itself.5
THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA:
The power and wisdom of God is not the divinity of Christ as such but the preaching of the cross.6
HILARY OF POITIERS:
The wise virgins are those who, embracing the time available to them, were prepared at the first onset of the coming of the Lord. But the foolish were those who were lax and unmindful. They troubled themselves only over present matters and, forgetting what God said, did not direct their efforts toward hope for resurrection.7
It is some great thing, some exceedingly great thing, that this oil signifies. Do you think it might be charity? If we try out this hypothesis, we hazard no precipitate judgment. I will tell you why charity seems to be signified by the oil. The apostle says, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” “If I speak with the tongue of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” This is charity. It is “that way above the rest,” which is with good reason signified by the oil. For oil swims above all liquids. Pour in water, and pour in oil upon it; the oil will swim above. Pour in oil, pour in water upon it; the oil will swim above. If you keep the usual order, it will be uppermost; if you change the order, it will be uppermost. “Charity never fails.”8
EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN:
Those ten virgins, whom the Lord compared with the kingdom of heaven, were set up as an example for all virgins. They went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. This means that they had received the grace of the Holy Spirit. They had come forth as virgins never stained by sin and had left behind earthly matters to meet Christ and the church. “But five were foolish and five wise. For the wise took oil with them along with their lamps. But the foolish did not take oil.” Thus they were foolish, because they were not prepared for the future but only for the present. Thus they were foolish, because they did not have works of compassion. For the oil is compassion. But the wise took oil with their lamps. Thus they were wise, because they took these things not on account of people but on account of God. Thus they were wise, because they were virgins not for the sake of the present but the future. Thus they were wise, because they had works of compassion. Thus they were wise, because they were virgins in spirit and body.9
But if it is good to abstain from the unlawful excitements of the senses, and on that account every Christian soul has received the name of virgin, why then are five admitted and five rejected? They are both virgins, and yet half are rejected. It is not enough that they are virgins but that they also have lamps. They are virgins by reason of abstinence from unlawful indulgence of the senses. But they have lamps by reason of good works. Of these good works the Lord says, “Let your works shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Again he said to his disciples, “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.” In the “girded loins” is virginity. In the “burning lamps” is good works.10
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 3.7. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 12). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 169. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 12). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE INCARNATION 15. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 14). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 1 CORINTHIANS 1.8.1–4. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 4.5. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 27.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 216). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 93.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 216). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 36. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 216–217). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 93.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 217). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.