Painting by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978),
Painted in 1959,
Oil on canvas
© Boy Scouts of America / courtesy of the Medici Museum of Art
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 painting
When I was boy, I was a member of the Scouts. One of the mottos of the scout movement is ‘Be prepared!’ Before we went hiking we had to make sure we had all we needed to meet with any unexpected eventuality that might arise. The preparation was almost as important as the event that followed. Five of the bridesmaids in today’s gospel reading would probably not have made good scouts. They weren’t prepared for the late arrival of the bridegroom and, as a result, their oil had run out; with empty oil lamps, they couldn’t escort him into the wedding hall.
A few weeks ago when the same parable was part of our daily Gospel readings, one of you commented ‘Why didn’t the wise virgins not share their oil with the foolish ones? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?’. Yes, that is right indeed. The parable is, however, not necessarily about the call for generosity, but is more about the call to be ready, to be prepared. The parable calls on us to be ready with our lamps brightly burning and have plenty of oil reserve to fall back on.
Preparation is indeed key. Our painting by American artist Norman Rockwell shows the role scouting played in the American family during the 20th century. It shows a boy scout in a pose reminiscent of classical sculpture. The wall behind him carries a large scouts logo with the words ‘be prepared’. Further painted roundels on the walled surface depict an oil lamp with bible, a white dove, bow and arrows... a myriad of instruments the scouts fall back on for when they prepare for a long journey. It is a charming painting of a young man fully prepared for the adventure that lies ahead.
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