A Modern-Day Parable for Pandemic
Ten Volunteer Groups, an Adaptation of Matthew 25:1–13, Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids by Michael Rozier, SJ, PhD
The coronavirus pandemic has forever altered our lives. Pope Francis said it is helping us to see that the good of each person individually is tied up with the common good of society as a whole, and vice versa.
And he insisted, "A virus that does not recognize barriers, borders or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders or distinctions."
If, on the other hand, solutions to the crisis are tinged with selfishness or egoism, the Pope said, "we may perhaps emerge from the coronavirus crisis, but certainly not from the human and social crisis that the virus has brought to light and accentuated." Instead, everyone — and Christians in particular — have a duty to work to promote the common good.
Thinking globally, we understand that COVID-19 created or exacerbated social divides. There were literal divides as communities and many families quarantined and remained socially distanced. There were also divides in resources where goods and services stopped flowing to the places where they would meet crucial needs. In the case of medical mission trips, surplus donations and other global health activities, when planes were grounded and passports tucked away, we must ask: what was happening in the communities where reliance to health mission trips has been built? Did partnerships grind to a halt, or were new means created? Did experiencing scarcity — some foods, toilet paper, PPE — build greater awareness of daily struggles in countries where health systems are nascent?
As we try to imagine life where we have a safe vaccine for COVID-19 and can get back to normal and resume our international medical missions, let us instead engage our imagination in the way that Jesus often challenged his disciples. A simple parable opens us up to both the promise and peril of global health projects and how our activity or inactivity during the pandemic will define our treatment of neighbor.
Then 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 wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten groups of international volunteers had their projects suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Five groups were foolish, and five of them were wise. When the foolish had their projects suspended, they stopped working on them altogether, assuming they would resume where they left off once the pandemic was over; but the wise focused on what they could do in the meantime. They stayed in touch with their international partners. They sent the resources the partners most needed. They continued formation programs for their volunteers. They learned about how the pandemic was affecting their partners' communities. As the virus continued to circulate the globe, the groups of volunteers got involved with other worthy projects. But one day there was a declaration, 'Look! It is now safe to travel! Come, let us go off at once.' Then all ten groups of volunteers began preparing for their next trip. The foolish said to the wise, 'We have lost touch with our partners and do not know what we can do. Let us help your partners instead.' But the wise replied, 'No! More is not always better and it is not just about helping, but about relationships. The trust we have built over time is precious and cannot be wasted; it is better that you start from the beginning, both with your volunteers and with your partners, to build the relationships that have been lost.' And while the foolish groups gathered together to figure out their next steps, the pandemic had ended, and the volunteers who were ready resumed their former projects and began new ones. And the planes took off. Later the other groups reached out to their neglected partners, saying, 'Please, let us come and help.' But their partners replied, 'Truly we tell you, we thought we knew you.' Keep engaged in the work that can be done, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.