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The bridegroom will come eventually-- Happy are those who have what is needed to hold on throughout the night until the celebration begins.
"The kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who 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 was delayed, they all slept.
"At midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose 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 answered, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
"Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
Matthew 25:1-13 NKJV, condensed
Imagine living without electricity or batteries, in a time and place without cell phones and appointment books. Add to that picture a nighttime wedding in a rural town and a foreign culture two thousand years ago. The bridegroom for the big event was king of the show. He could arrive whenever he wanted and only then would the festivities begin. His courier preceded him into town, announcing his imminent arrival. Then all his friends and neighbors stopped what they were doing and joined the procession to the banquet hall.
As was typical at that time, the bridesmaids were all young, female, unmarried and pure in their standing within the community. One of the duties of these friends of the bride was to light the way for the new husband and the guests who followed in his train. Yet Jesus in his parable noticed a dilemma. Half of the bridesmaids took no extra oil with them when they set off to meet the groom.
Of all the people you would expect to see at a wedding, surely the bridesmaids would be there. However, in Jesus' story, not everything went as expected. The bridegroom delayed his coming. Townspeople got tired of waiting and went to sleep. Even the attendants slept--until the middle of the night when the voice of the courier rang out through the darkness and woke everyone up.
The excited bridesmaids trimmed their lamps, and that's the place in the story where we see the ten young ladies separate into two categories. Five of them had sufficient oil to light up the darkness around them; the other five did not. And those with sufficient oil had only what they needed and not a drop to give away. Those unprepared had to find a shopkeeper to sell them more fuel.
The wise ones fulfilled their duties and danced their way into the banquet hall; the foolish ones arrived too late to participate and the door was shut against them. Even though they begged to be allowed in, the bridegroom refused to open the door. He wouldn't even admit to knowing such short-sighted people. At the end of the story, Jesus warned us to watch and be prepared at all times, because we do not know when the Son of Man will come.
What is it that the foolish are short on, and can't get more of at the last minute? What is it that the wise are not able to share? There's something vital in this story which cannot be acquired from family or friends, something we must have with us to draw upon when needed or we won't be able to light the way for ourselves or for anyone else. The secret to being ready is not performing some mighty awesome deed. It's illustrated simply in this parable by having an adequate supply of oil to last us through the night and until we usher in the long-awaited bridegroom.
Being "wise" involves getting ready beforehand. Maybe it's like a training program for someone who wants to excel in their sport? Certainly no one can workout for another person and each individual must persevere for themselves. We do not borrow physical stamina from our neighbor.
We can also be sure that when Jesus spoke of being "wise" his heavenly Father was involved in a big way. Wisdom comes from God. Wisdom creates harmony, righteousness and light for our journey. Preparing to become wise is similar to an athlete in training. Doing the minimum with God just won't cut it. Readiness is an active, life-long process. Jesus didn't say exactly what the oil represented, yet the bridesmaids had to possess and use it in order to join in the wedding celebration!
Personal experience tells us that God comes to us again and again. At midnight or at midday; in ease or in sorrow; when the tank is full or when we are running on empty. The kingdom of heaven is like the bridesmaids who weren't all doing their jobs, and when they weren't they arrived too late for the party. Let's not miss the opportunities. Only as our lamps are carefully trimmed are we able to enter into the joys of our Lord.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name one missed opportunity which you regret.
All ten bridesmaids carried a lamp to light their way, but half of them had no source of power when they most needed it. Relate an experience when you were "out of fuel." What is it like at your house when the electricity goes off?
What are some events and activities you plan ahead for? What kinds of things do you leave till the last minute?
A parable usually contains a surprise. What is the surprise in this parable?
When Jesus told this story his characters included only the bridegroom and ten bridesmaids. Do you find it interesting that although the groom held the power, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to the experience of the bridesmaids? What do the bridesmaids tell us about the kingdom of heaven? How did Jesus explain why half the bridesmaids weren't at the wedding?
What is this oil that is so essential? How much is enough? How can we make sure we carry this oil with us every day? For you, what is the oil of your salvation?
It would be easy for us to get sidetracked and debate whether the "wise" five were stingy and unkind, or question how the groom could be so unsympathetic and lacking in grace. But that's not the point of this parable, and when we focus on the wrong details we could miss what Jesus intended for us to hear. What is the message that Jesus is trying to get across in this text?
In light of this parable, examine your life and the things that you fall prey to that leave you "on empty." Name an important quality that you cannot borrow from another at the last minute to make up the difference for your foolishness or neglect.
Every light has to have a source of energy. What fills you up spiritually and replenishes your oil when you run dry?
Often our preparations include a check list. Make a check list for preparing to experience God's presence in your life, or for preparing to meet your Maker?