Yesterday at mass, the gospel reading was the Parable of the 10 Virgins.

This one has always bothered me.  Either I just never understood it or, to me, it seemed to be at odds with other things Jesus said.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here it is:

     “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.  Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise ones replied, ‘ No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day or the hour.”

-Matthew 25: 1-15 (NASB)

So, despite waiting for however long they were waiting–long enough to get so tired to merit falling asleep–the foolish girls weren’t allowed into the banquet (Kingdom of Heaven) because they didn’t prepare ahead of time.

But they waited a really long time!  What gives?

Now, maybe I’m just taking this a little personally, as I’d often fall into the category of the foolish girls.  (Whose kids went to school today without some of the supplies their teachers asked for on Friday?  Yep–my kids!)

In Luke, Jesus says, “whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”  (Lk 3:11)  But going back to this story in Matthew, it’s all of a sudden OK that the wise girls don’t share their oil with the foolish ones?  Jesus didn’t say in Luke, “Oh, wait–if the person who has no tunic is an unprepared fool, then go ahead and keep your extra tunic.  The unprepared fool doesn’t deserve it.”

Of course he didn’t!

So what is he talking about in this story?  Why is it OK that the girls aren’t sharing before the wedding banquet, and yet Jesus clearly told us to share?

Yesterday, I finally had this explained to me in a way that finally made some sense.

The Oil Isn’t Oil

As with most parables, Jesus wasn’t speaking literally.  (He was being literal in the quote from Luke.)  The was Father Gustavo explained it, the oil was a symbol of our own inner lives.  The more we prepare our inner lives, the more we are like the wise girls.  When we pray, study the Bible, meditate, and serve others, we’re feeding our inner lives.  The more we feed that part of ourselves, the more we grow, and the more prepared we are to “wait for the bridegroom.”  Or enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

On the other hand, if we’re just hanging out, hoping that we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven when it’s time, without exercising our inner lives, this story paints a rather bleak picture.  We only have this one life, and this is our opportunity to prepare ourselves.  While I can share my stories with others, I can’t actually give others a slice of a healthy inner life, a faith life.  It’s something that each of us has to develop on our own.  No one else can do it for us.

This is like what Paul was referring to when he said, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)  By working out our salvation, does that mean that we’re trying to earn our salvation?  Of course not.  Our salvation was earned for us 2000 years ago.  That’s a done deal, and–thank God!– none of us can do anything to change that.  But, do we accept that salvation, and are we living our lives out of gratitude for that salvation?

Reading the story like that, I’m a bit more at peace now about why the wise girls couldn’t share their oil with the foolish girls.  I still wish with all my heart they could, but–in that context–I finally understand why they can’t.  They may want to, but developing our faith is something that each of us has to do on our own.

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For full disclosure:  I’m not a big fan of these verses and parables that foretell a time when some are let into the Kingdom of Heaven and some are left out in the cold.  I’d rather focus on the verses that say, “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, on heaven and on earth.”  (Phil 2:10).

I believe that God loves us–all of us.  And, as mentioned earlier, through Jesus Christ, we’ve already been saved.

But these verses are in the Bible.  I can’t wish them away because I don’t like them.  In this journey to develop a faith life, we’re all trying to figure things out, the best we understand them.

This is what was on my plate this weekend.  I’m doing my best to make sense of it.


6 Replies to “Why Can’t they Share Their Oil?”

  1. Thanks for sharing!! This was (obviously) the Gospel reading for us on Sunday, too, but I missed most of the sermon because I had to take Sophia out 😛 This passage makes a lot more sense now!

  2. And this week’s Gospel reading was another one that always bothered me! It’s like they’re laying out all the bothersome ones together at the end of the year! 😉

  3. I still don’t understand why they didn’t share the oil did not the apostles fall asleep in the garden of gethsemene the flesh is weak they were good men

  4. This verse did the same thing to me.. When we.. the called.. the anointed.. read it.. We see it thru our Son Shades.. All the Feelings you experienced. I too experienced.. “How could I go in to celebrate knowing the door was shut on my Sisters/Friends?? I struggle with this verse and some others like it…. When we are truly born again into HIS Spirit.. We begin see how HIS Word is Circumcising our Heart.. HIS Word is the Double-edge Sword that causes us to SEE Jesus as HE Truly IS…. I beginning to understand that verses like these test our Heart Condition for the HIS Purpose.. SO when Most read it.. Do they think of themselves Only or Do they mourn over the fact that some will be left and ask OUR Lord HOW we can make Sure their is a Vat of Oil available for ALL of them.. The fact that I would rather Split my oil with ALL five and not go in.. knowing I could celebrate without them .. Tells me that the Lord is doing amazing things in my own Heart.. I believe that HE would have Mercy on me if I chose to Love over my own Self concern ♥️ I believe this Verse IS testing Our Heart Condition.. 🙏🏽♥️ I was SO disturbed and Distraught over it that I had to Google to see if HE was putting this reaction on anyone else’s Heart as well.. and here you are.. “ The First WILL be Last.. and The Last WILL be First”.. I hoping We can ALL enter in together with arm locked in Arm.. Unified by Love.. Not Position 🙏🏽♥️

  5. Exactly, Margaret! May all of us refill our lamps . . . and remind others to refill them as well! But we also trust in God’s mercy, which is endless.

  6. What I understood of the women not sharing their oil, is that we can pray, we can read the Bible, we can do everything possible to get our souls in line with God (basically, refilling our oil). . . but we can’t do that for anyone else. We can encourage them, but we can’t force anyone else to have a relationship with God. (If God doesn’t force us, how could we?) However, as the Gospel also points to is that God’s mercy is infinite–and we can trust in it.

    Keep encouraging others, keep praying for them, but it’s only the Holy Spirit that can change hearts. And a willingness in the hearts of individuals to receive the Holy Spirit.