Summary: The bridegroom is coming. No one means to get left outside of the wedding feast, but by their actions and priorities, some will not gain entry.
When I was a kid, I had an excuse for everything. My dad fell for none of them. I’ll spare you most of them and give you just one. My brother, sister and I were playing the basement…with a broom handle…and we broke the light. My dad asked what happened. Did we own up to it? Nope. The best he got out of us was, “We didn’t mean to do it.” No excuse would sweep the broken glass from the basement floor or fix the fixture dangling from the ceiling. So my dad had us sweep up the mess. Then we each got our piggy banks, and gave him what it would cost to replace the fixture. That day, my father taught me that neglect and carelessness, even without bad intentions, has a price. So lets look at the excuses that the foolish virgins might have made.
Excuse #1: We didn’t mean to fall asleep. Right off the bat, the Bridegroom was delayed. It doesn’t matter whether it was one day or many days; the delay wasn’t their fault. But look in verse 1, the virgins took their lamps, and went out to meet him. Yet in verse 6, they’re found sleeping and were called back out. At some point, they all decided to go back in because of the delay.
No one means to be caught sleeping. It’s a slippery slope from slumber to sleep. Being tired certainly wasn’t unexpected. Having one’s eyes droop is understandable. From there, how easy to go from, “just closing my eyes for a second,” to sawing wood. My nephew Steven was having a sleepover with his best friend Deven. The two of them wanted to stay up all night! Well, you know how that went. About 11:30 the last peeps were heard. They didn’t mean to sleep, but it was (thankfully) a short fall from tired to drowsy to passed out.
Excuse #2: I didn’t intend to run out of oil. The virgins knew their role as friends of the bride. They knew the tool required for the task, a lamp. They knew that the bridegroom could—and likely would—be late in coming.
All ten lamps were ready at the outset, filled with oil, well trimmed, giving lots of light. Over time, the oil was used up and the wicks charred.
The wise brought oil to refill their lamps. Their lamps had grown dim, but because of their preparations, all that was required was trimming the wicks and refilling the lamps with oil. The bridegroom was looking for light when he came; Christ is looking for children of the light.
The foolish virgins brought no oil. When the hour was come, their lights were also spent. All their other preparations were in vain, for they had no oil. In life, the foolish will put small squirts of oil into their lamps. My grandmother passed away: squirt…and I have light a little longer. Someone losses a job: squirt…a little longer. Facing illness: squirt—maybe a little more—squirt, squirt—, enough to get by.
The foolish virgins’ lamps gave no light—gave no joy. The lamps were for display, empty containers that merely hinted at what should have been. The lamps were exhibited for others to see that they were part of the wedding party. The lamps were a show for the virgins themselves, to make them feel like they belonged, like they were just as good as the next gal.
Nevertheless, these dark lamps bore witnessed to their bearers’ lack of wisdom, and lack of care. Outward, even shallow, religion may briefly console, but it will not take you through the valley of the shadow of death. That gloom swallows the light of the unprepared.
Those who are foolish do not intend to run of oil. But they don’t prepare for the long, arduous, marathon that we call “life”. Rather they deal with their immediate needs. Some, maybe even all, of the urgent tasks get addressed. But none of the truly important matters are advanced. And these are the great commissions that require intense effort and significant time. I can make a plane, see? But making a model plane is far more involved, taking several days. And building a real jet takes thousands of manhours. But which one is the greater achievement?
The foolish virgins, finding their light spent, begged oil from the wise. They, who wouldn’t prepare for the long night, sought a cheap fix to their problem. The wise refused to share their oil. They had only enough oil for themselves. This oil cannot be shared. We must each sanctify ourselves, each his own soul. Even those saints who had the most faith and grace have none to spare—their salvation was a gracious gift of God.
The wise virgins didn’t upbraid the foolish, or respond with insult or contempt, but with prudence. “Go to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” This is a double-edged response. To the unapologetic, the wise say, “Go back to the unsure sources of oil, to the founts that you drink from and thirst again. Go and find once more what formerly fueled you. As it is of little concern to you, do not bother yourself to seek of this oil, for it’s costly and precious.”