The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins,
Drawn by William Blake (1757-1827),
Watercolour, pen and black ink over graphite,
Executed circa 1799,
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The wise and foolish virgins
Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.” But they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.” They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. “Lord, Lord,” they said “open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.” So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’
Reflection on the watercolour
Our artwork today, a watercolour from 1799, in fact looks rather modern, almost Art Nouveau, showing that William Blake was well ahead of his time stylistically. On the left, we see the five elegantly dressed wise virgins, holding steadily their burning lanterns; to the right we have the five foolish virgins, portrayed as being agitated and drawn in a darker colour palette, with their oil lamps being all over the place. The trumpeting angel flying overhead announces that the moment of judgment has arrived.
Today’s gospel reading is a dramatic warning for us to be prepared for Our Lord whenever he comes to us. We must make sure that our lives (our ‘lamps’) are kept alive with the oil of God’s Word. In that sense the oil in the lamps can be symbolic for the good deeds which each of us are called to do and that we may have to show when called to account by God. Like the wise virgins, we have to keep our little houses prepared and lit up for the Master’s return…
It is always a joy to read when light is referred to within the Gospel readings or depicted in art. Light always involves the removal of darkness. Light also reveals defects, damage and brokenness which need healing. Light is good. Jesus said he came as the Light of the World, therefore breaking through the darkness of sin by his passion his death on the cross. If we want to be true disciples of Christ, we too are called to be a light to the world... If each of us radiates light, then darkness will soon disappear!
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