Summary: The life of a faithful disciple is not about making a profession of faith and then waiting for the good life after death. We have to make the "good life" now, as we live in God's Kingdom everyday!
We live in an extremely fast-paced world. Chattanooga is now known as “Gig City” because with the new fiber optics infrastructure, many of us measure internet speeds in gigabytes per second, as opposed to the more common, and notably slower, megabytes per second. We have instant communication available to us via phone, video conferencing, email, text message, and social media, among many others. So whereas business once conducted at a snail’s pace, major decisions can be planned and executed in a matter of moments, and on a personal level we can easily keep in touch with relatives near and far on a weekly, if not daily, or even hourly basis. We can fly across the country in a matter of hours by plane. In any given moment, we can get the most “up-to-the-minute” news from around the world on any number of 24-hour news stations. A “Disney Fast Pass” can get you into the park’s most popular rides in 15 minutes or less. We can “Google” the most mundane of questions and have an answer in a matter of seconds. And, should we need something faster, there’s probably a way to make it happen. All we have to do is ask.
So it is, I believe, that we have become a rather impatient lot. If something is not happening as fast as we feel it should, we demand an explanation. We become irritable and angry whenever we are delayed. And, perhaps with the exception of a visit to the doctor’s office, we do not get into anything with the expectation that we will be waiting for a long time; nor do we ever really prepare ourselves in any significant way for the possibility that we might need to be patient and wait.
I guess some things are just human nature. Life was much slower paced 2,000 years ago when Jesus told this parable of the ten bridesmaids. Nevertheless, half of these women were still not prepared to wait. But in order for us to understand what these women were waiting for, we need to understand the wedding customs of the day. On any given wedding day, guests would assemble at the home of the bride and there were entertained by her parents while waiting for the groom. When the bridegroom approached, the guests, including the bridesmaids, would light torches and go out to greet him. Then, in a festive procession, the entire party walked to the groom’s home, where his parents waited for the ceremony and the extended banquet that would follow (and continue) for several days.
In the parable of the bridesmaids, however, for whatever reason, the groom has been delayed. Day quickly turns night, and night darkens to midnight. The party has slowed, the guests have all tired out, and many go to sleep, including all the bridesmaids. Then the shout comes that the groom is coming. You can imagine the hustle and bustle in those moments as the guests quickly prepare themselves to go out and meet the groom for the processional. But in the hurried preparations, five of the bridesmaids quickly discover that in the passing hours of the night, their lamps have burned out, and they have no more oil with which to rekindle them.
By the time Matthew’s gospel was written down, Jesus had been resurrected for a few decades at least. Jesus had promised to return, but the people had expected it to happen very soon after his resurrection. Now, one generation has given way to a second, and as Matthew writes these words from Jesus, they serve as a reminder to the Christian community that Jesus was never specific about the time of his return. And this is important for us to remember and understand as well. We are now 2,000 years out from Christ’s resurrection, and still we wait. And humanity could wait another two millennia or more. With such a span of time, it could be very easy for us to slip into the fast-paced modern lifestyle without a thought to our need for constant preparation in our wait for Christ’s return.
And yet, that’s what we do, isn’t it? In the midst of the busy-ness of our lives, our faith in Christ and our Christian living often slips to the back burner. We assure ourselves by saying that we have declared our faith in Christ and all we need do is wait. But the Christian life is more than just a declaration of faith and a period of waiting until either we die or Christ returns. You see, all of the bridesmaids demonstrated faith. Even though they all fell asleep, all ten of the bridesmaids waited patiently for the groom to come. And when he did approach, five of the bridesmaids quickly greeted him with their lamps shining brightly, but the other five scampered in the opposite direction hoping to find some oil. When those five bridesmaids finally arrived at the ceremony, the doors had been shut, and they cried out, “Lord, Lord!” But do you remember Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount? “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” This parable of the bridesmaids is a perfect example of that admonition; some of the women were prepared, some of them were not. And though they all exhibited faith in the coming groom, only those who were prepared actually celebrated with him.