Remember the story in Matthew's gospel (chapter 25) about the wise and foolish bridesmaids? There is a church in Cork (where I live) that has carvings of them at the entrance - the wise at one side and the foolish at the other. I'm afraid the foolish ones look much more interesting that the wise! They look more individual and more alive. In the Gospel story too the wise bridesmaids are far less likeable characters than the foolish! If you were really stuck, you would be more likely to get help from one of those foolish bridesmaids than from any of the wise ones. Nobody loves a little ‘Miss Perfect’ (except her mother!). And these Miss Perfects refused to help out when they were asked. Was Jesus having a bad day when he thought up this story?

    We have to remember that a parable is not an allegory. An allegory is a story that has many points of reference to human experience - many punch-lines, so to speak - but a parable has only one. The development of the story itself has only one purpose in a parable: to add strength to that one point. For that reason, the refusal of the wise to help the foolish is not being held up as model behaviour for us. Jesus himself had passionate regard for “the weak, the sick, the wounded, the strayed, the lost” (See Ezechiel 34, as the model for his ‘lost sheep’ parable). The one point of this parable of the bridesmaids is readiness. Jesus was continuously telling people to wake up and stay awake.
    But to come back to those ten bridesmaids.... Why do the wise ones seem so boring and the foolish ones so much more interesting? Maybe one reason is this: while our foolishness is our own, our wisdom is usually borrowed; our wisdom is all too often an imitation, and it doesn’t fit us as well as does our foolishness! We care little for goodness and wisdom; in truth we are bored by them, and it shows in our face!

    Can wisdom be mine, really mine? Are the best things really for me? Or can I only look on and imitate, like a football supporter wearing the team colours? Goodness was obligatory at home and in school, and so from earliest childhood we may have seen it as ‘what other people want’. Evil then became identified with what we wanted ourselves! We may never really have interiorised goodness. We may then feel that it must be the same with everyone else: that goodness is always false. That would be the final caricature of Christian education. We must face the fact that many children now grow to adulthood with nothing more than this.
    Wisdom is to the soul what health is to the body. It’s no use unless it’s mine. Information and knowledge can be anybody’s: I can get them on a CD! But wisdom has to be my own. The Latin word for wisdom, 'sapientia
', is related to ‘sapor’, which means ‘taste’: wisdom is ‘sapida scientia’, tasted knowledge. It is not knowledge in a book or in someone else’s head, but in me: in my mouth, so to speak, in my heart, living through me. I heard someone say, “English is only our second language. What we ARE is our first language!” This expresses it exactly.
    Do we know with how little wisdom the world is governed? I think we do now. Politics - and life itself - now seems little more than a matter of acquiring and controlling information. T.S. Eliot asked the key question:
     Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
     Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

Donagh O'Shea OP

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