Matthew is the only evangelist to have preserved this parable of Jesus. Weddings in Arab villages proceed this way. After the day has been spend in dancing and other entertainment, the wedding feast takes place at nightfall. While the guests are entertained at the bride’s house, the bridegroom’s coming is repeatedly announced. Finally, after a long delay, the bridegroom arrives towards midnight to fetch the bride. He is accompanied by his friends, who light his way with burning torches, and is received by the guests who have come out to meet him. The wedding entourage then sets out, always in a flood of light, in a festive procession towards the house of the bridegroom’s father, where the marriage ceremonies will take place. The bridesmaids also carry lighted torches made of rolled cloth and bathed in olive oil, and upon reaching the venue of the wedding, performs several round dances until their torches burn out— the longer, the better. Thus, each girl must bring large quantities of oil, so that she will be able to perform her duties of lighting up the procession. The foolish bridesmaids thus were excluded because they had neglected to prepare themselves adequately.
There are things which God only knows: such as the time of our death, or the end of the world. And if it is indeed true that God only knows these, then, our whole life is a preparation for the inevitable. And we should be ready. At this point, let us see what this means by looking at our experiences when preparing for an exam. It is true that just as wedding preparations entail a thousand small details that are apparently disconnected, we too feel in the fever of the last finishing touches, how everything seemed to be disjointed, disorganized, and how we feel that our minds are full of all sorts of data and information, that they all seem to be just that: a jumble of facts. We feel we have studied, however, we also feel that our preparation is not enough. There are too many things we are afraid we don’t know that would turn out useful in the exams. Our brains are like a tapestry seen from the wrong side. What appears is a bewildering jumble of threads crisscrossing without rhyme or reason. But the other side of the tapestry reveals the outline of the pattern in all its beauty. Often the outline appears when a problem has been given, and judgment has to be done fairly and reasonably. In other words, we feel we are like those foolish bridesmaids who ran out of oil. Our lamps burn by the continuous feeding of little drops of oil.
Nevertheless, the exams come inevitably, like the bridegroom who comes at an unannounced hour. The day of reckoning finally is here. And we act like the bridesmaids doing their last finishing touches, doing their retouches. For those whom I know who are preparing for the bar exams, for example, some have resorted to age-old tradition: a pink candle for St. Jude, blessed pens and a thousand eggs to the Monastery of St. Clare. Some have made a pact with God: let me pass the bar exams and I will be forever grateful. Some have made sudden shifts: their behavior turns almost angelic and holy. Some have resorted to final cleansing like a day at the spa before the celebrated trial: a confession and daily attendance at mass. The frenzy is indeed real and thorough. Like all those preparing for an exam, our lives often becomes like that: at this time, we do not know where our studies are going, where it will lead us, and we all know that to be teachers is to help others prepare themselves for their future.
The key prayer is this: Trust in God. St. Teresa of Avila said: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing affright you. All things are passing. God only is changeless. Patience gains all things. He who has God wants nothing. God alone suffices.” It is true that we have prepared our brains, but often not our hearts, the lamp might run out. Before we take any tests, remember all those whom you love for whom you dedicate life. These are the people who give us much strength and much courage. They fill our hearts. They are the drops of oil that will feed our minds, and eventually our lives. Because we, as Christians, believe in hope. That indeed, all things shall be well.