Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV) “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.”
Jesus continues to focus on His final return, and on the need for His followers to always be ready. In this parable, His followers are symbolized by ten virgins. Five of the virgins are classified as wise, good role models for the people of the kingdom. Five are classified as foolish, poor role models.
Many have debated the fine points of this parable, such as what the oil represents, to whom the foolish virgins must go to buy some more, and whether or not it is loving for the wise virgins to refuse to share their oil with the foolish virgins. But the details are much less consequential than the overarching story line. Of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to come, only the wise virgins are prepared for a long await before He arrives. The foolish virgins expect Him to arrive very soon, and see no need to bring extra oil for their lamps.
When the herald announces the bridegroom’s approach, the wise virgins are ready, and refill their lamps with the extra oil that they brought along. But the foolish virgins find themselves unprepared, and try to scramble to get ready. The wise virgins are not willing to sacrifice their own preparedness for those foolish people who neglected to stay prepared, and there is no time for them to get prepared (in this story, by gong to the shop for more oil). While they are scrambling, the bridegroom comes and sweeps those who are ready into the wedding feast, leaving the unprepared virgins on the outside.
The final scene is reminiscent of the flood of Noah. For years, or more likely, decades, Noah had been building the ark and urging people to repent. But the whole project seemed like foolishness to them. But once the rain began, those who wanted to get on the ark found the door closed, sealed by God Himself (Genesis 7:16). It didn’t matter that they were ready to believe now, that they were now ready to repent. The window of opportunity had passed, and the door to salvation was shut.
Jesus’ final statement continues the theme of His discourse: His return will come without advance notice, at a time when even His followers don’t expect it. So we, as His disciples, must constantly live ready, so that when He does return, we won’t be left out in the darkness.
Father, over and over again, Jesus sings this same chorus: keep watch, be ready. We should pay close attention! Help me to live ready, today and every day, and never grow complacent, or ever allow myself to think, “Probably not today.” Amen.