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How to read the parables?

Another of those parables of Our Blessed Lord which because they are the word of God are inexhaustible in meaning and call us to meditation, reflection and prayer. And again it is instructive to see the many different aspects and meanings emphasised by the fathers of the Church, those writers who over the first few centuries of the Church struggled themselves to listen to, reflect upon and explain the word of God often to non-Christian listeners.

Possible meanings of the parable about 5 foolish and 5 wise bridesmaids:

Dissonance between outward appearance and the heart
5 foolish virgins and 5 wise. The foolish with no spare oil for their lamps. Some of the Fathers observed that you can be a virgin in body but not in mind. You can be outwardly pure and chaste, outwardly holy - but inside, in your heart and mind you can be very different. The lamp they said is the outward show but the oil is the inward reality. The hearts and minds of the foolish virgins did not match their outward appearance.

Works of charity
Others have said that the oil is the merit earned by works of charity. The lamp is the faith but that faith will die out unless it is accompanied by charity and good works. That's why the foolish virgin s are sent away to buy oil from those who sell it. That is from the poor. For our service of them is repaid by God himself.

Working to gain approval of men, not God
Again some Fathers noted that five is the number of our senses, sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste. And that we have a choice to govern and control our appetites and to use them appropriately. The five wise virgins did this before God, in secret and in humility to gain the approval of God, whereas the foolish did it to gain the approval of men. And thus 'go to those who sell it' is a rebuke to those who valued praise from men rather than God.

Need for growing in the faith
Finally the oil can also be understood as teaching, instruction, knowledge. We receive the lamp, the light of faith in baptism, but we are to grow in our understanding and love of it. We should know our faith so that when a crisis comes, when it is challenged we have wisdom and knowledge to draw on.

What times does the parable refers to?

And in the parable what starts this crisis? It is the falling asleep of the bridesmaids and the arrival of the bridegroom. The bridegroom is the Lord and the falling asleep is either our own death or the end of the world. But it is a moment of judgement. Judgement because that is the bridesmaids' job to be ready with lighted lamps to greet the bridegroom, just as ours is to know love and serve God in this world.

The closed door and the words ' I do not know you' are a reminder that this life, this world is the time and the place given to us to know, love and serve God, to gather the oil we need. One of the Fathers says seek the Lord in this world, for his mercy in this world is as great as his judgement at the end of time. Once we have died, once the bridegroom has come we can do no more for ourselves. That incidentally is why we must pray for the Holy Souls they can no longer help themselves.

Finally there are some who say that this parable is also about the coming of the Lord now in Holy Mass in Holy Communion and we must examine ourselves to ask if we are ready to meet him.

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Parish Priest: Fr Ian Farrell
Address: St Joseph's Presbytery, Portland Crescent, Manchester, M13 0BU
Call or text: 0757 528 8370
Email: ian.farrell@dioceseofsalford.org.uk



 
 

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