In the Gospel parable, there are ten women waiting for the Lord. But when the Lord comes, half of these women are rejected. As the parable explains it, the problem is that five of the women are off shopping for oil when the Lord comes, and so they’re left out. They are the foolish ones. The other five women are the wise ones, welcomed by the Lord.
How are we to understand this parable?
Well, notice that when the ten women originally arrived at the place where they were to wait for their Lord, the five foolish women did notice that the wise women had brought extra oil with them. But humility doesn’t seem to have been one of the virtues of the foolish women. When they saw that the wise women had brought extra oil for their lamps, the foolish women apparently just felt they knew better than the wise: the oil in their lamps would not run out.
And maybe, after all, it didn’t seem very important to the foolish women whether the oil in their lamps would last. When the foolish discovered that they were wrong and were short on oil, they didn’t lament their mistake. Their first thought was just to demand some of the oil of the wise.
The foolish didn’t care if the wise suffered in consequence. The foolish were willing to risk the welfare of the wise, provided only that the foolish had a chance of getting something for themselves. Love for others isn’t one of the virtues of the foolish either.
What would have happened if the foolish women had not risked missing the Lord by going after the oil they wanted but had just waited for him instead, without oil? What would have happened if their Lord had found them in darkness but also in humility, not trying to climb to safety on the backs of others, but just acknowledging their mistakes and hoping in the Lord? Does anyone really think that their Lord would have cast them out?
Their folly lies in their insistence on having just what they want when they want it, no matter what the risk or the cost to anyone else. And that is why they are cast out.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University