I HAVE SOMEONE I want you to meet today. His name is Larry. Larry, the lantern. He’s a close friend of Lisa’s. During Hurricane Sally, Larry went everywhere Lisa went. They even reconnected for a short time during Hurricane Zeta.
At the last minute, Sally turned east. We were caught unprepared. We were especially unprepared for the electricity to be off for nine days. Lisa remembered Larry in the garage cabinet. I got Larry out and turned him on. He shined brightly in the darkened house. But Larry eats batteries for dinner. For a few evenings, Larry lit the night. And then he didn’t. Off to find more batteries.
† † †
HALF OF THE YOUNG WOMEN needed more oil in their lamps. They were not expecting a long delay. So, they forget about the party and run off to find a 7–11 open to buy more oil.
The expectation of Christ’s return is central to Christian living. The lives of Jesus’ disciples are to be shaped by knowledge of his return. Like the other Gospels, Matthew is clear that the timing of Christ’s return is unknown. Jesus says that only God knows the day or hour.
Matthew states clearly, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:44)
† † †
IT IS BETTER to be wise than foolish. But sometimes it is tough to tell the difference.
Few people would choose to identify with the five foolish women in the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Yet, we, time and again, find ourselves unprepared. When their lamps sputter out, they have no means to light the path for the bridegroom. Maybe they are called “foolish” because they assume oil for their lamps is the most important thing.
Throughout the parable, the behavior of the bridesmaids (wise or foolish) is poor. The wise bridesmaids, for their part, each carry a spare flask of oil, which is basically the only thing they get right. Not one of them deserves to enter through the door with the bridegroom. They are all invited. They all sleep.
True, the foolish ones run off just when they should be present to welcome the groom. But when the foolish sisters ask the others to share, the answer is swift: there’s not enough; go buy your own. Their response reveals the assumption that there is only so much oil — so much good — to go around.
All of them operate on the mistaken belief that the most important thing is the oil.
† † †
THERE ARE LOTS OF IDEAS of what the oil represents in this parable. Martin Luther said the oil represents faith. Others say, “spiritual piety.” Some suggest the oil is a symbol for “enduring love” because we read in Matthew 24 that “the love of many will grow cold.”
Probably the most popular suggestion is that the oil stands for “good works.” Earlier in Matthew, followers are urged to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
But then again, maybe we make too much of the importance of the oil. This is, after all, a parable of what the kingdom of heaven will be like.
† † †
PERHAPS INSTEAD of focusing on the oil — who has faith, piety, good works and who doesn’t — perhaps we should focus on the party, the wedding feast. The wedding feast is the joyous feast in the kingdom of heaven.
They are called to do their part: to be with the bridegroom as he enters the feast. To celebrate. To laugh. To enjoy. To have fun. To feast at the heavenly banquet.
Maybe the bridesmaids would have been better prepared for a delay if they had remembered the groom’s tendency to stop along the way to dine with sinners, talk to foreigners, or heal a person with leprosy and then invite them to the wedding feast!
One time he even paused at the side of a mountain to assure people that the mourners, the meek, the merciful; the persecuted, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit: together with all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are recipients of God’s favor.
If the bridesmaids had thought about it at all, they probably could have guessed that a commitment to outreach would delay the bridegroom.
† † †
THE CHURCH TODAY sees the Lord’s Supper as a symbol, a reminder, a preparation for the heavenly wedding banquet.
“By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”
The table is open to everyone. All are invited. And we are to be active in ministry until the banquet doors are opened. Active — prepared — one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
† † †
THE FOCUS ON THE OIL, like it’s the most important thing, removes the foolish bridesmaids from the scene. This fear of losing their oil blinds the “wise” bridesmaids to the truth that hoarding diminishes the celebration.
Maybe, just maybe, they should have joined the parade without their lanterns. Five lamps provide the same light for the whole wedding parade as it does for just the “wise” young women and the groomsmen.
What sets the wise bridesmaids apart from the foolish is not the extra oil, but whether they remain in the company of the bridegroom. All ten could have walked through that door together.
Imagine the celebration that could have been.