Summary: Jesus warns us to be ready for His return. He warns us because the danger and threat is real. To do so, He tells us story about 10 virgins who are waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. The parable is explained and applied to the hearer.
In Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, she talks about a British Artic expedition which set sail in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Artic to the Pacific ocean. Neither of the two ships and 138 men on board returned. Why? They packed their ship like they were going on a pleasure cruise than a dangerous and grueling journey in one of the world’s most frigid parts. They packed a 1,200 book library, a hand organ, fine china, sterling silver flatware, and cut-glass wine goblets. They also only brought their navy-issued uniforms and a 12 day supply of coal for the steam engines. Once the ship sailed into the icy waters and became trapped with ice, they were doomed. Ice coated the decks, spars, and rigging. Water froze around the rudders and the ships became hopelessly stuck. Their unpreparedness cost them their lives. While not as extreme, we too, can have lapses of judgment in which we are not ready. It can be at home, at work, or at school. It can be with various chores around the house, too. In our parable this morning, Jesus tells us about the importance of being awake and ready, for we don’t know when He will return.
In this section of Matthew, Jesus is teaching about the end times. The topic of the end times, though, is something we can struggle with. In some sense, it is awkward for us because of Christ’s delay. How do we deal with this? How do we live with this tension? The end times can be also challenging for us to understand. Some of the imagery and language can rack our brains. We can have confusion about what will happen, and when it will happen. The end times might also scare us as well. We can also live our lives assuming it won’t happen. It might not even be on our radar. Despite these things, Jesus gives us this text to teach, and to warn us. He wants us to be ready. He has been repeating Himself with His warnings and encouragements, and does the same here. He gives us this parable to teach us.
Jesus begins by setting up the story. We see that there are 10 virgins who are waiting for the bridegroom, or as we are more commonly familiar with, groom. It seems like a strange thing to us, but it was common in Ancient Israel. Weddings and customs back then were different. The groom would dress in wedding garments, and his friends would escort him to the bride’s house. The bride would then come out to meet them with her friends. The wedding party would then process to the home that the groom prepared. These virgins are waiting for the groom to come.
As Jesus continues, He breaks down the characters. He says that five were morai. Sound like an English word? Morai means foolish. What were the other five? They were wise, and their actions will prove it. The foolish ones took no oil with their lamps. They are burning on borrowed time. In that day, this would have been unheard of. No Jewish maiden would have done such a thing. It helps us to see just how foolish and unprepared they are. That would be like leaving to go to Duluth with your gas light on, and then leaving your wallet at home. It makes no sense. These maidens assume that there will be no delay. We’ll see how that works for them since their oil will not last the night.
The wise ones, on the other hand, took flasks of oil with them. If their lights go low, they will be able to fill them and have light. They brought their wallets, one can say.
As they are waiting to meet the bridegroom, a problem arises! The bridegroom is delayed! He has no cell phone to give them an update of when he will arrive. They have no clue when this will be. As they wait, it gets darker. As it gets darker, eyes become heavy, and sleep overcomes them all. While they are sleeping, the groom comes, and the announcement sounds forth: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” With that, they arose and tended their lamps.
But, “Ah!” a problem arises. As they get their lamps trimmed and ready, the lamps of the foolish ones are beginning to extinguish. They cannot keep them lit. So they beg the wise ones: “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” The response of the wise? “No way, Jose. I need it for my lamp. I have just enough for my lamp. I can’t do mine and yours. Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” Now, the question arises. Will they be open? Can they make it back in time if they are? With that, the foolish head out and look to buy some oil.