The Parables of Jesus
The Ten Virgins
August 23, 2009
This week we turn to the parable of the ten virgins. This parable is Matthew and is one of several parables arranged by Matthew after the eschatological discourse. The what? This is the teaching found in Matthew 24 and Luke 12 that describes the coming of the Son of Man and the various issues especially difficulties surrounding it. Matthew includes several more parables than Luke. We will be looking at three parables: ten virgins, the talents/minas, and sheep and goats. So we begin with the parable of the ten virgins found only in Matthew 25:1-13.
One evening a burglar finally decided to make his move. He had been casing a house for weeks and determined that tonight he was going to break into a particular house where he was sure that the owners had left for vacation. Slyly and with extreme stealth he headed to the window. He had already determined that there were no alarms and that the owners usually left the window into the living room slightly open.
He crept up to the window, double checked that no one was watching him, and carefully began pushing up the window. After slowly opening the window about six inches, he heard was startled to hear a voice cry out from inside the house, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” The burglar didn’t even think but turned around and fled. From a distance, he watched and waited for the police but none arrived.
“I was sure that no one was home,” he thought so he watched the house. There seemed to be no activity. The living room light came on at 8:03 by his watch, which he was sure was on a timer. He saw no movement and promptly at 11:13 the light went out.
“It’s got to be timer. There isn’t anyone home. Maybe I heard a radio or TV,” he said to himself. So he silently slithered over to the house and approached the window that he had earlier partially opened. As he firmly pushed up on the window, he heard the voice once again, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” It was too much. With his heart racing, he panicked and ran away. He expected that for sure this time, he would hear the screech of approaching sirens but nothing happened.
“Maybe there is someone house sitting,” he concluded. So he decided to watch the house the next day to be sure. However, all the next day, there was no movement or activity. There couldn’t possibly be anyone at home.
So the next evening, he crept up to the house constantly glancing all about to see if he was being watched. He approached the window and again began pushing it open. When it was open just enough for him to climb through, the voice said, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” This time he fought back the panic and just froze. He waited for the voice to say something else but he heard nothing else. Something wasn’t quite right so he proceeded to climb through the window. As he stood up inside the house, the voice coming from the corner of the room again said, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” He peered into the deepening darkness and saw a cage with a bird in it. He walked up to the cage and saw that it contained a beautiful parrot. He couldn’t believe that this parrot had caused him so much grief. He could take his time and get the best stuff.
The parrot once again said, “I see and Jesus sees you.”
“Yeah, right, you stupid parrot. And what’s Jesus gonna do to me?”
Just then the robber noticed a huge Rottweiler emerge from behind a chair. The robber’s heart skipped a beat as the parrot said, “Sic’im Jesus!”
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
"At midnight the cry rang out: ’Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ’Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
" ’No,’ they replied, ’there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
"Later the others also came. ’Sir! Sir!’ they said. ’Open the door for us!’
"But he replied, ’I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
This parable is a contrast between the wise and the foolish.
The Wise and The Foolish
It is about the wisdom of those who are prepared, ready, and waiting. It is about the foolishness of those who are not prepared. But what does it all mean?
First of all, we need to realize that first century marriage customs in Palestine is something that we have very little information. What we do have must lead us to draw conclusions not as facts but as “this is what seems to be happening in this parable.” Since marriage customs varied widely, it is difficult to say that this is what marriage was like. However, there are some common sources that indicate that marriage customs might have been functioning in this manner for Jesus as he told this parable.
The likely process was that after a lengthy betrothal, sometimes as long as several years, the wedding would occur. Usually women were from 12 and up and the men were 18 to 20 years old. During the betrothal, the young woman would have remained in her father’s house. On the wedding day, the bride would be adorned and perfumed. She would be escorted by a procession at nightfall carrying torches and lanterns to the groom’s house (or his parents house if they are to live there). The groom would receive the bride and the celebration would begin lasting as long as seven days.
Some Greco-Roman traditions describe the groom going to the bride’s house and escorting his bride back after a banquet in the house of the bride. The groom would have his clan waiting for his return. This seems to fit the parable as to explaining why the bridegroom would have been delayed and why the virgins were waiting since they would have been part of the bridegroom’s family.
In the parable we have the bridegroom gathering his bride quite possibly referencing the church for the grand wedding celebration marking the culmination of God’s kingdom. Quite possibly the virgins represent those who are pure of Israel since they are part of the bridegroom (i.e. Jesus’) clan. Some in Israel would enter the kingdom and remarkably some would not. While in other parables, Jesus often emphasized the work of the faithful, here the emphasis is simply on being prepared and ready for when the dream of God’s kingdom is completely fulfilled.
Whether or not the virgins represent specifically Israel or not, the text speaks to us that we also need to be ready in the face of the delay of God’s coming kingdom. The wise are those who are ready even with the delay. The foolish ones are not prepared when Jesus finally arrives and cannot partake of celebration.
• The Wise are ready in spite of the delay
• The Foolish are not
Micaela played t-ball. Many of you know about the t-ball experience. One of the kids asked me if Micaela’s team was good. I chuckled because from what I see no t-ball team is “good.” They are there to learn some basics and have fun.
The biggest struggle that the coaches face is not kids who can’t throw or kids who can’t catch. The biggest struggle is simply making sure that the kids are ready. Too quickly kids lose focus. They get distracted by, well, by everything! You name it and they would rather focus on that rather than focus on the kid trying to hit the ball. Grass, dandelions, bugs, trash, and especially for the boys—dirt! Constantly throughout the hour and half, we remind the kids to be ready. Ready for the ball. Ready to run to the next base.
Why is this so important? Not so they will do well. Not so they will not embarrass us. It is so they won’t get hurt. A ball in the face or collision between to two teammates as they left the field (one was daydreaming and realized everyone was leaving took off for the bench slamming into the kid who was running past him).
Likewise we must be ready. We don’t know how long Jesus will delay so we need to be ready. We don’t know when Jesus work and reveal himself around us. We constantly need to be ready. Ready for his coming again but I think ready for God to act. After God’s timing is usually not our timing.
The virgins remind us to be pure. We need to be prepared. We need to be watchful. We need to be faithful to our calling (the virgins were supposed to make sure the house would be lit up as soon as the wedding party arrived). Readiness means I think three things for us.
It is right thinking. It is hopefulness. It is willingness. It is humility recognizing the God is in control and that I’m not. All of these reflect an attitude of readiness.
It means to keep on loving others. It means not giving up. It means persevering in the face of adversity. It means keeping our eyes (that is our focus) on Jesus. It means remaining faithful to our calling. It means not letting things discourage us that is dis-courage us and succumb to our fears.
Readiness is an attitude. One can see clearly the t-ball players that are ready (at least for that moment). They are concentrating and looking at the ball. They have their gloves ready for the ball. They wait with anticipation for the ball to come their way. (or maybe they are just praying—“Don’t hit it to me! Don’t hit it to me!”). No that comes later.
This means being ready for whatever God has for us. It means being ready for God’s plan and ready to fulfill out part whatever that may be. It means being committed to God’s mission while we wait.
Richard Bauckham said, “The delay of the parousia (that is the coming of Jesus) is filled with the mission of the church.”
Are we committed to Jesus?
It is living out the ways of Jesus and the Shema of Jesus. It is living in ways that are consistent with the character of the kingdom. It means being faithful at ALL times. Not just when someone is looking. Not just when it is convenient. It is a lifestyle that reflects the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit.
A special note here is needed. We absolutely cannot—and should not—get caught up in end times excitement. There are a lot of books, teachers, and movies out there that promote fear and anxiety. Often readiness and watchfulness is touted through reading the signs of the times often involving some ridiculous speculation and even fantasy.
A lifestyle of readiness does observe the events of our day and is very present in pointing and calling for the end of injustice. We ought to be aware that from many biblical markers we seem to be closer than ever to the coming of Jesus. Yet, we also need to temper this with patience, wisdom, and love. We do not know the length of time. We ought to be humbled that for two thousand years people have wondered if the decadence and evil in our culture could be any worse.
We do not know how long the bridegroom will be in coming. It is not for us to know how long it will be. It is only for us to be ready and be found faithful whether Jesus comes five seconds from now, tomorrow, or another thousand years. We need to be ready or else we might suddenly find that while we were doing other things, Jesus comes and we haven’t been counted with the faithful.