24th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew -- the chapter that precedes the
one that contains this parable -- Jesus told His Apostles what to expect
with regard to the destruction of the Temple and the end of that age, and
the end of our age (the contents of this chapter and of Mark 13 are called
the "Olivet discourse" because Jesus sat on Mount Olivet, or the "Mount of
Olives," when He spoke of these things). He segues into the Parable of the
Ten Virgins here, in Matthew 25.
The Ten Virgins: Matthew 25:1-13
Then shall the
kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out
to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and
five wise. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil
with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the
bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye
forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are
gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for
us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now
whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went
in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.
But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore,
because you know not the day nor the hour.
By St. John Chryostom
are like the former parable of the faithful servant, and of him that was
ungrateful and devoured his Lord's goods. For there are four in all, in different
ways admonishing us about the same things, I mean about diligence in almsgiving,
and about helping our neighbor by all means which we are able to use, since
it is not possible to be saved in another way. But there He speaks more generally
of all assistance which should he rendered to one's neighbor; but as to the
virgins, he speaketh particularly of mercifulness in alms, and more strongly
than in the former parable. For there He punishes him that beats, and is
drunken, and scatters and wastes his lord's goods, but here even him that
doth not help, nor spends abundantly his goods upon the needy. For they had
oil indeed, but not in abundance, wherefore also they are punished.
But wherefore doth He set forth this parable in the person of the virgins,
and doth not merely suppose any person whatever? Great things had He spoken
of virginity, saying, "There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs
for the kingdom of Heaven's sake;" and, "He that is able to receive, let
him receive it."He knew also that the generality of men would have a great
opinion of it. For indeed the work is by nature great, and is shown so by
this, that neither under the old dispensation was it fulfilled by these ancient
and holy men, nor under the new was it brought under the compulsion of the
law. For He did not command this, but left it to the choice of his hearers.
Wherefore Paul also said "Now, concerning virgins I have no commandment of
the Lord." "For though I praise him that attains thereto, yet I constrain
not him that is not willing, neither do I make the thing an injunction."
Since then the thing is both great in itself and hath great honor with the
multitude, lest any one attaining to this should feel as though he had attained
to all, and should be careless about the rest, He putteth forth this parable
sufficient to persuade them, that virginity, though it should have everything
else, if destitute of the good things arising out of almsgiving, is cast
out with the harlots, and He sets the inhuman and merciless with them.
And most reasonably, for the one was overcome by the love of carnal pleasure,
but theseof money. But the Jove of carnal pleasure and of money are not equal,
but that of carnal pleasure is far keener and more tyrannical. And the weaker
the antagonist, the less excusable are thesethat are overcome thereby. Therefore
also He calls them foolish, for that having undergone the greater labor,
they have betrayed all for want of the less. But by lamps here, He meaneth
the gift itself of virginity, the purity of holiness; and by oil, humanity,
almsgiving, succor to them that are in need.
"Then, while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." He shows
that the time intervening will not be short, leading His disciples away from
the expectation that His kingdom was quite immediately to appear. For this
indeed they hoped, therefore He is continually holding them back from this
hope. And at the same time He intimates this too, that death is a sleep.
For they slept, He saith.
"And about midnight there was a cry made." Either He was continuing the parable,
or again He shows that the resurrection will be at night. But the cry Paul
also indicates, saying, "With a shout, with a voice of an archangel, with
the last trump, He shall come down from Heaven."And what mean the trumpets,
and what saith the cry? "The bridegroom cometh." When therefore they had
trimmed their lamps, the foolish say unto the wise, "Give us of your oil."
Again He calls them foolish, showing that nothing can be more foolish than
they who are wealthy here, and depart naked thither, where most of all we
have need of humanity, where we want much oil. But not in this respect only
were they foolish, but also because they looked to receive it there, and
sought it out of season; and yet nothing could be more humane than those
virgins, who for this especially were approved.
Neither do they seek for it all, for, "Give us," they say, "of your oil;"
and the urgency of their need is indicated; "for our lamps," they say, "are
going out." But even so they failed, and neither the humanity of those whom
they asked, nor the easiness of their request, nor their necessity and want,
made them obtain.
But what now do we learn from hence? That no man can protect us there, if
we are betrayed by our works, not because he will not, but because he cannot.
For these too take refuge in the impossibility. This the blessed Abraham
also indicated, saying, "Between us and you there is a great gulf,"so that
not even when willing is it permitted them to pass it.
"But go to them that sell, and buy." And who are they that sell? The poor.
And where are these? Here, and then should they have sought them, not at
Seest thou what great profit arises to us from the poor? shouldest thou take
them away, thou wouldest take away the great hope of our salvation. Wherefore
here must we get together the oil, that it may be useful to us there, when
the time calls us. For that is not the time of collecting it, but this. Spend
not then your goods for nought in luxury and vainglory. For thou wilt have
need of much oil there.
Having heard these things, those virgins went their way; but they profiled
nothing. And this He saith, either pursuing the parable, and working it up;
or also by these things showing, that though we should become humane after
our departure, we shall gain nothing from thence towards our escape.
Therefore neither did their forwardness avail these virgins, because they
went to them that sell not here, but there; nor the rich man, when he became
so charitable, as even to be anxious about his relations. For he that was
passing by him that was laid at the gate, is eager to rescue from perils
and from hell them whom he did not so much as see, and entreats that some
be sent to tell them these things. But nevertheless, he derived no benefit
from thence, as neither did these virgins. For when they having heard these
things went their way, the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went
in with Him, but the others were shut out. After their many labors, after
their innumerable toils, and that intolerable fight, and those trophies which
they had set up over the madness of natural appetite, disgraced, and with
their lamps gone out, they withdrew, bending down their faces to the earth.
For nothing is more sullied than virginity not having mercy; so that even
the multitude are wont to call the unmerciful dark.
Where then was the profit of virginity, when they saw not the bridegroom?
and not even when they had knocked did they obtain, but they heard that fearful
saying, "Depart, I know you not."And when He hath said this, nothing else
but hell is left, and that intolerable punishment; or rather, this word is
more grievous even than hell. This word He speaks to them also that work
"Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." Seest thou how
continually He adds this, showing how awful our ignorance concerning our
departure hence? Where now are they, who throughout all their life are remiss,
but when they are blamed by us, are saying, At the time of my death, I shall
leave money to the poor. Let them listen to these words, and be amended.
For indeed at that time many have failed of this, having been snatched away
at once, and not permitted so much as to give charge to their relations touching
what they wished to be done.
This parable was spoken with respect to mercy in alms; but the one that comes
after this, to them that neither in money, nor in word, nor in protection,
nor in any other things whatever, are willing to assist their neighbors,
but withhold all.
And wherefore can it be that this parable brings forward a king, but that
a bridegroom? That thou mightest learn how close Christ is joined unto the
virgins that strip themselves of their possessions; for this indeed is virginity.
Wherefore Paul also makes this as a definition of the thing. "The unmarried
woman careth for the things of the Lord;"such are his words: and, "For that
which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
These things we advise," he saith.