Advent: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids
Eleanor Zuercher's useful book, Not Sunday
Not School! suggests using the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew
25.1-13) during Advent, as a story about being prepared. This was the
source of the idea of sticking felt or cardboard faces on the fingers of
old gloves, to make five smiling (wise) girls and five sad (foolish) girls,
which can be used as a visual aid while telling the story.
Hugh Martin's book, The Parables of the
Gospels and their Meaning for Today, is an excellent source of short,
accessible commentaries on many of Jesus' parables, including this one.
- Start by inviting the children to the
front and asking them questions about Advent. Do they know what it means
("arrival" or "coming" - when we await Jesus' arrival at Christmas)? How
do they prepare for Christmas in their homes? Do they know of any other
Advent customs (such as calendars, candles and so on)? Explain that they
are going to hear a story that Jesus told, about being prepared.
- The parable is read by three older
children (or adults), with two younger children each wearing one of the
gloves and wriggling its fingers as prompted during the reading.
- There is a discussion of the parable's
meaning, in relation to Advent. This could come after the reading or, if
you split the story into three parts, as in the simple script that is
provided below, then you can have short discussions between the
- Three older children or adults to
read the story.
- Two younger children to wear the
- An adult to lead the
- The parable: you could use the
script for three readers, provided below. If so, it would be a good idea
to make three copies, with each reader's part highlighted on his/her own
- A pair of gloves with five happy
faces stuck to the fingers of one hand and five sad faces stuck to the
fingers of the other hand. The faces can be drawn quite simply on circles
of paper or light cardboard which you tape to the fingers, or on pieces
of felt which you stick or stitch to them.
- Pass out the gloves and readings to
selected children at the beginning of the service. Ideally, the gloves
should go to children who aren't confident enough readers to be
participate in that way, but who are old enough to be able to wriggle
their fingers whenever they hear the word 'foolish' or 'sensible', or
when otherwise prompted.
- Scene One: The cultural setting for
this parable is a matter of some dispute among commentators, but at the
most basic level we can see that there are ten bridesmaids whose role is
to take part in some sort of procession to escort the bridegroom to the
wedding festivities. Their "lamps", according to Hugh Martin, were
probably "dishes containing a cloth wick dipped in oil, carried on top of
a short wooden stem." Spare oil was obviously essential, but five of the
girls did not take any with them.
- Scene Two: When the bridegroom is
delayed the girls all fall asleep. When they are roused by his sudden
arrival at midnight, five of them find that they have run out of oil and
the other five do not have any to spare. At first reading, the response
of the wise bridesmaids might seem surprisingly harsh. You could ask the
children who thinks it was unkind or unfair of them. But what might have
happened if they had given some oil to the foolish girls? If there wasn't
enough to go round then it would simply have led to everyone letting down
the bridegroom. And in any case if there wasn't enough left for everyone
then even if the wise girls had shared then it wouldn't have solved the
foolish girls' problem. There are times when we cannot rely on other
people's generosity: we just have to make our own
- Scene Three: Here we see the
consequences of the foolish girls' lack of preparation: they miss the
wedding feast. The wise girls couldn't have saved them from their lack of
preparation: they had to do that for themselves. You could talk about how
athletes prepare for a race or footballers prepare for a match: no matter
how much they want to help their friends, they cannot share the fit,
healthy muscles for which they have put in the work. The Christian life
is like this, too: we have to work at becoming the sort of people God
wants us to be. We cannot borrow our friends' good
Script: The Parable of the Ten
Bridesmaids, for three readers
those days the kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took
their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were
foolish and five were sensible.
foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with
3. But the
sensible ones brought their lamps and oil in their flasks as
Then, as the bridegroom was a very long
time, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
But in the middle of the
night there came a shout, "Wake up, here comes the bridegroom! Out you go
to meet him!" Then up got all the bridesmaids and attended to their lamps.
foolish ones said to the sensible ones, "Please give us some of your oil -
our lamps are going out!"
no," replied the sensible ones, "there might not be enough for all of us.
Better go to the oil-shop and buy some for yourselves."
But while they had gone off to buy the oil
the bridegroom arrived, and those bridesmaids who were ready went in with
him for the festivities and the door was shut behind them.
on the rest of the bridesmaids came and said, "Oh, please, sir, open the
door for us!"
3. But he
replied, "I tell you I don't know you!" So be on the alert - for you
do not know the day or the time.
script is taken from J. B. Phillips's "The New Testament in Modern
English", Revised Edition, 1958, 1960, 1972]