1-5. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
This parable is on mercy and almsgiving (in Greek the words mercy “eleos” and olive oil “elaion” sound nearly the same). In telling the parable the Lord uses the person of virgins to teach those who understand the greatness of the virtue of Virginity not to strive to accomplish this one virtue alone and neglect the others. But learn that if you do not give alms, though you may be a virgin, you will be cast out with the fornicators. It is only right that he who lacks compassion and mercy is cast out, even if he is a virgin. For a fornicator is overcome by a tyrannical and physical passion, but he who lacks mercy is overcome only by money. Of the two, the foe of the greedy one is the weaker, and therefore he who remains vanquished by the passion of greed does not find forgiveness. Such a man is foolish for the very reason that he has prevailed against a physical fire storm, but has been overcome by the trivial passion for money. “Slumber” here means death, and the tarrying of the bridegroom means that the second coming does not occur immediately.
6-13. And at midnight there was a cry made, behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.
He says that cry was made in the middle of the night to show that the Lord comes when least expected, as at midnight when we all have fallen into a deep sleep. He also comes with a cry, for a trumpet will sound at the second coming. The lamps are our souls, and each one’s mind is also a lamp; the lamp is lit when one has the oil of the virtues and of almsgiving. The virgins were truly foolish in this regard also, that they went to look for oil when it was not the time for work and business. The wise virgins say, “lest there not be enough for us and you.” My neighbor’s virtue scarcely suffices for his own defense, and certainly not for me as well, for each one will be deemed righteous by his own deeds and not by those of his neighbor. But the foolish virgins went to “them that sell”, that is, to the poor. What He is saying is this: the foolish virgins repent of not having given alms and now for the first time they understand that it was from the poor that we should have obtained oil. This is what He means when He says that they went to buy oil from those that sell, that is, their thoughts went to the poor and they pondered how good a thing is almsgiving, but now the door was shut for them, for there is no time for repentance and deeds after our departure from this life. The Lord therefore says to them, “I know you not.” For the merciful God Who loves mankind does not know those who lack mercy, for how could He know those who are alien and dissimilar to Him? Understand this, that every soul possesses a lamp and a light from God, and that all arise to meet the Lord, for all desire to meet and have communion with God. But after God has given light and a lamp, the wise, with their good deeds add the oil. But the foolish, having let their lamps run out of oil, are shut out, having no good deeds with which to fuel the light in their lamps.
The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew