The Parable of the Ten Virgins
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Today our theme and our Bible reading is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. The underlying theme of this parable is encouragement for us to be ready, be alert, and faithful until Jesus’ returns. But what does it mean to be ready? There is far more to this parable that meets the eye. It is a difficult parable to understand for it raises many issues and questions. Today I will try to address some of these issues. Maybe I will raise more questions than I answer.
This service may not leave you with the expression, that was a nice service, instead it will raise many questions and challenge with some alternate answers. I pray that you will rethink this parable in a new way even if it leaves you with uncertainty. It is my prayer that you will agree and disagree as we search for God’s wisdom in this parable. Feel free to talk together, ring and have a discussion, email some of your ideas as issues are raised, for together we seek the heart of God.
This is a difficult parable to fully understand so may I say from the onset that I believe that the underlying message of this parable is that Jesus will return at the end of time. No one knows that time except the Father. We are to be ready, alert, and faithful. Among the ancient Greeks the runner that won the race was not the man who crossed the line in the shortest time, but the man who crossed it in the least time with his torch still burning. We are so busy with life's activities that we are in danger of allowing the torch of our spiritual life to become clouded or flickering. This parable may assist us not only to cross the line with our lamp burning but, that the oil in our lamp may be shared to assist other to cross the line also.
The parable raises a number of important questions:
What does it mean to be ready?
Of the ten bridesmaids five are wise and five are foolish. Were the five bridesmaids who do not share their oil really wise or was it out of the fear of not having enough and a lack of faith that motivates them not to share their oil?
What was so foolish about the five bridesmaids who didn’t take enough oil Why were they locked out? Would a lack of organizational skills disqualify?
Does Jesus really lock the door on those who wait for him, even if perhaps their oil runs low for a time?
How does the parable stand within the context of the parables around it? Parables like the talents, the sheep and the goats, the owner of the vine yard sending servants then his Son – all of whom are rejected, the lost sheep and the lost coin. Coupled with this parable, in this context, is the fact that the Pharisees are continually trying to trap Jesus with difficult questions. Jesus answers all the traps set with wisdom thus continually stopping the Pharisees goal. They are out to discredit Jesus and defend their power structure at all cost.
How does this parable compare with the other parables of the wedding feast?
Is Jesus a door opener or a door closer? Who is Jesus really closing the door to in this parable?
Let’s begin to address these questions with the concept of waiting. Matthew’s original audience is a community that has come through significant duress in order to keep faith. They believed that Jesus’ return was to be very close. They are waiting for Jesus return even though no one knows the time; only the Father. We also await Christ’s return only the world we live in is a world of instantaneous answers – thanks Mr. Google and instant gratifications. Our patience muscles are not well exercised. Waiting can be challenging, so what does to mean to wait with enough oil?
The song, Give Me Oil in My Lamp may help to answer this question.
There was another verse in this song that we would sing perhaps you remember it. It went something like give me umption for my gumption or some words like that. It wouldn’t be politically correct enough to sing now but what it meant was give me the strength and courage to stay faithful until the end.
Oil is the Biblical vehicle for anointing – being set apart for a particular purpose. Samuel anointed David to be the second King of Israel. Priests were anointed with oil to set them apart to lead the people as spiritual leaders. The oil in our lamps is our anointing – being set apart for the purpose of bring light into darkness. To love and serve the world as Jesus did. In a world of two kingdoms; Caesar and God, many see only the world of Caesar. Jesus says, I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. How will people be able to knock if they don’t know of the door? How will they know if we don’t show them? Faith can be a process of knocking to open the door. It can take time to be convicted then have the courage to knock. Jesus says faith is like a mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds but if it grows it becomes a huge tree giving shelter to all.
Would Christ of the gospel close the door on emerging or struggling faith?
In other parables about the wedding feast the invitations are sent out into the lanes and back alleys to invite the vulnerable, the lame, the blind and the outcasts, the poor and the ordinary in society of the time. Many accept the invitation of grace, love and forgiveness. Who doesn’t accept the first round of offers? The self- sufficient who believe they are not in need of such and invitation. I’ve just got married I have a party of my own going. I don’t need your party. I’m too busy with my affluence, just purchased more property and more shares in agriculture. I need to check out my new acquisitions. Who ignore the invitation - the religious who know everything except the heart of the God whom they represent?
In another of the banquet parables the one thrown out from the important seat is the one who isn’t wearing the right clothing. Oh, he is wearing the right expensive brand but that brand doesn’t get him a seat. Only the clothing of humility and forgiveness washed in the blood of the Lamb guarantees a seat.
Back to the bridesmaids:
We applaud the five wise bridesmaids for being well prepared and rightly so BUT all ten bridesmaids fall asleep. The text says that the bridegroom was late. Well perhaps the bridegroom is not as much late but in fact he comes at a time that was not expected.
So, they all sleep just as Jesus’ disciples fall asleep as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Can you not watch with me for one hour?” Jesus says. Does this constitute the closing of the door for them? Of course not!
The five wise bridesmaids refuse to share their oil choosing their needs over the others. It’s interesting that the parable of the separation of the sheep and goats appears in the same chapter where people are invited into the Kingdom on the criteria that they meet the needs of the less fortunate. “We may not have enough for ourselves” is the comment of the wise bridesmaids. They are just being safe, operating out of fear and scarcity. Actually, neither group trust that the bridegroom will embrace them because they are there to welcome him whether they have ample light or if their light has worn down. Had they forgotten that Jesus is the light of the world?
A light house keeper who was widowed went to buy supplies. He didn’t take his children because a storm was brewing. He was late returning and darkness set it. The children were concerned for their father’s safety so they tried to light the lamp of the light house but unfortunately, they were not tall enough to reach the lamp no matter how they tried. Finally, the little girls went to fetch a lamp, she lit the lamp but was not tall enough to hold it up to the window. Her brother suggested she sit on his shoulders which she did providing light from the light house. Soon the boy’s legs began to bend with fatigue. Does it hurt his sister asked? Yes of course it hurts replied her brother but it’s worth it to bring dad home safely ….which it did!
It can be costly to share but always worthwhile.
John Currier was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He maintained he was innocent. Later he was transferred and paroled to work on a farm near Nashville, Tennessee.
Ten years later given a review the courts found him innocent. Currier's sentence was terminated, and a letter bearing the good news was sent to him. But John never saw the letter, nor was he told anything about it because of unexplained errors.
Life on that farm was hard and without promise for the future. Yet John kept doing what he was told.
Another ten years went by. Then a state parole officer learned about Currier's plight, found him, and told him that his sentence had been terminated. He was a free man.
John was asked "Did it matter to you if someone sent you an important message -- the most important in your life -- and year after year the urgent message was never delivered?" I’ll leave you to answer that in relation to sharing our oil.
Are there times in our own life when our light burns low? Time when we feel empty, perhaps have a wilderness experience. But we wait. Sometimes as others share their oil and their light, we gradually feel God’s presence again and our light is rekindled and our oil replenished. Would God shut the door because our light burns low or even flickers in and out for a time?
Remember the poem Footprints in the Sand it may help to answer this question.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."
Back to the five foolish bridesmaids. What mistake did they make that made them so foolish? They were waiting for the bridegroom sure they fell asleep but so too did the others. Their oil burnt low but not completely out. Their organization skill weren’t as well developed as the other five. Surely this would not shut them out of the wedding feast.
What would have happened if the five bridesmaids would have continued to wait for the bridegroom even with dwindling lamps. What if they had waited believing, “In the city of God, they will not need the light of the lamp, for the Lord their God will be their light.”
I think their big mistake was that they left. They left at the advice of the other five bridesmaids who sent them out into the night to source oil and light for other sources. There is much to consider here. What faith would it have taken to wait with vulnerability and honesty trusting in the love of the bridegroom who embraces all whether they walk in the light or the darkness.
So, to whom does the bridegroom close the door? Could this parable be pointed? Pointed to all who will not acknowledge the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God. Those who place status, power and self- reliance above the recognition of sin, and humility. Who in fact close the door by their own decisions of failure to accept the love, grace and forgiveness so readily available from the bridegroom, in particular within the context of this parable; the Pharisees? The foolish bridesmaids wait for the bridegroom as do the Pharisees. The Pharisees know about God, they know the letter of the Law but do they really know the heart of the bridegroom? Jesus challenges their positions of power. They reject rather than accept. To quote a wise minister, “The only people that Jesus condemns are the church leaders”. Instead of continuing to wait for the bridegroom they seek oil and light elsewhere in their own power and privileged status to their detriment.
So, for who is the door shut? Only those who shut the door for themselves. Those who refuse the love and forgiveness of the bridegroom, threatened by the vulnerability of admitting they have been wrong and accepting the grace of the bridegroom.
So, again let’s reconsider:
Wise and foolish
Proud and vulnerable
Asking and receiving
Seeking and finding
Accepting and rejecting
Hear, again the words of the bridegroom rephrased from the apostle Paul:
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14