During the height of the terrorist’s attack by the Boko Haram extremist in Nigeria, a young girl was caught trying to detonate a bomb in a crowded market in what supposed to be a suicide mission. During an interrogation with security officials, she says that if she succeeded in the mission, she would become a famous and exclusive virgin in heaven since she had not lost her virginity on earth. Some years ago, in a town in Nigeria, one lady known and respected in the community for her consecration to perpetual virginity was caught and admitted that she wanted to poison her younger sister’s food while visiting with her family.
Virginity is not equivalent to righteousness; there are virgin in heaven just as there are virgins in hell. One can be a virgin in the flesh but a non-virgin in the heart. The most excellent exercise of virginity is not just in the body but also in the mind and spirit. Today, we reflect on the theme: “virginity without virtue is vanity” following the Gospel Reading on the parable of the ten virgins.
In the parable (Matt. 25: 1-13), our Lord tells us about a wedding where ten virgins are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom (not the bride). They had lamps, but only five of them brought jars of oil. The bridegroom arrives late from an unnamed destination, and the five wise virgins light their lamp and enter the wedding feast, but the other five could not join because the door closed before they could get oil for their lamps.
The narrative has a lot of messages for us. First, the number “Ten” is instructive as a symbolic number in the bible. The number ten symbolizes completeness positively or negatively as it applies to any situation.
- The Egyptians suffered ten plagues (Exodus 7: 14-11:10)
- God gave the Israelites ten commandments (Exodus 20: 5)
- Ten lepers where cured by our Lord (Luke 17:11-19)
- Parable of the ten servants and ten pounds (Luke 19:12-27)
- Jesus gave ten “I Am” in the Gospel of John
- We have ten fingers and ten toes.
Another essential element in the parable is the jar of oil. The availability and lack of oil set the boundary between the wise and foolish virgins. The oil functions in keeping the lamp burning, hence it is an essential provision for the ceremony though the need does not arise immediately. The oil represents the virtues we need in our lives. It is not enough to be a Christian; there will be a need for us to possess the requisite Christian virtues.
Our positions, ranks, titles, designations, and earthly honors have no relevance to our salvation if we do not possess some of the essential Christian virtues. It is common to hear most people boast about their Church titles and other positions and using them to measure their level of commitment to God. However, such people forget that titles and positions are worthless before God; what matters to God is the inner commitment, the presence of the oil that will keep the flame burning.
We could recall the instructive dialogue between our Lord Jesus Christ and some Jews in the Gospel of John (8:31ff). The Jews believed that having Abraham as their father automatically makes them righteous as Abraham. Our Lord takes the time to tell them that having a link with Abraham is not enough; there is the need to reflect the life of Abraham “if you were Abraham’s children you would be doing what Abraham did” (John 8:39).
Back to our foolish virgins, they believed that being virgins among other virgins specially selected for the wedding was enough to get them to the banquet. They were distracted by their title, and they forgot to look inward and to secure the most needful facility, the oil. It will be important to find out the things that preoccupied the foolish virgins to the extent that they could not pay attention to what was vital for the wedding banquet. If we fast-forward them to our context, they could be involved with their make-ups, chatting away on the phone or gossiping.
We are often foolish like the five virgins when we misplace our priorities. We often waste our time with the unnecessary things when there are other things that matter. We are usually concerned about our outer looks but do not bother about our inner looks. We are typically worried about people’s opinion about us and care less about God’s judgment about us. We are usually concerned about our titles and ranks but forget about our ranking with God.
We are invited today to look beyond our physical “virginity” and seek out the inner virtues we need in life to enter the eternal banquet. Wisdom consists in seeking out these essential virtues as the First Reading (Wisdom 6:12-16) instructs us. May God’s unfailing grace help us to look beyond the surface and search for the oil that will keep the flames burning until the Lord comes to take us to the glorious banquet. Do not be a foolish virgin!