(A sermon from the 2011 archives following the Revised Common Lectionary on the same passage as that of 8 March 2015. This passage is placed in a different position in the Narrative Lectionary).
Reading: Matthew 25:1-13
Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Mat 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
Mat 25:4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Mat 25:5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mat 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mat 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mat 25:9 “‘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.’
Mat 25:10 “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.
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We are a rechargeable generation! Everything we used can be recharged and carried around with us! Even laptops have portable chargers which you can pre-prepare and have with you to top up your batteries when you work out on the road or in the bush – or even better on the beach!
As an aside – one of my predecessors in my last African parish used to prepare his sermons on the beach and then come back to the church and have a shower – they put a shower off his study! I never did know whether he wrote anything down. These days you could write the sermon on a portable device.
The 10 maidens – also translated as virgins – were all out on the road, so to speak. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – and this was a normal procedure for a wedding in those days! The wedding was not a one hour business – but took place over a couple of days and was a great celebration (remember that Jesus did his first miracle at Cana in Galilee – at a wedding.)
And when the bridegroom came back – presumably after negotiating matters with the bride’s parents – the bridesmaids would be waiting with torches lining the path.
At least that’s how I think it happened! There seem to be conflicting views as to who would go where! It seems that once the groom arrived the whole lot would process back to his house for the ceremony!
Either way it was a big occasion described by William Barclay as “the gladdest week in all their lives” – and of course with no other entertainment in their fairly ordinary lives the people knew how to party! (Remember the astonishment of the people at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – that the best wine was produced last – as usually you would start with the best wine and people wouldn’t care later in the feast!)
This was the key issue – half of the team were not organised and prepared.
They assumed things would be fine just with the oil in their lamps.
They were foolish. Literally – morons – in the New Testament language.
The problem was that five of them did not bring their chargers with them – no spare batteries either! No oil for their lamps.
They weren’t properly prepared! (Maybe Baden Powell would have helped them – seeing that BE PREPARED is the motto of the Cub-Scout movement!)
Are you prepared for ANYTHING? It’s a great question.
Are you ready for anything?
Matthew 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
All ten are appropriate people for the task. People of integrity – ten virgins. Sadly you would battle to find suitable candidates today in our overly free society.
There is no question of their qualifications – their standing. But five are literally morons (in the bible language) – foolish, and five are wise.
Reminds me of another time Jesus taught on wise and foolish people. Do you remember that one? It was about what they built their lives on! Yes – they were to build their lives on the words of Jesus.
The houses built on foundations – sand versus rock: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Now when it comes to weddings there are no short cuts. Well there is always the option to elope. I saw a picture of drive-up weddings – like driving through a restaurant!
We would love some (cheaper) short cuts to weddings. THAT SELDOM HAPPENS!
Unless you run away – your particular culture will determine what kind of wedding you have (and your in-laws!)
I thought of talking about the key issues – in one of those rhyming sermons that slick preachers produce. Like these: the KEY ISSUES are:
1. Wedding gear
4. Weady for anything… 🙂
Clearly that didn’t work!
So I thought of the KEY PEOPLE: So who are the key people in the story?
That’s probably enough! The key people and who they represent (there are few debates about this in the interpretation of the parable).
Bride – the church as the bride of Christ
Groom – Jesus
10 maidens – we who are waiting for his second coming.
Or are we? I sometimes wonder whether we really believe He will return?
Do we really live each day as if it were our last? How prepared are we?
And is this just about being prepared for death – or the second coming of Jesus?
Or is there an added layer of expectation that we are missing here?
The delay is in THE FULLNESS OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD.
It’s about preparedness – yes
It’s about patience – although they were all waiting!
It’s about alertness – although they were all pretty sleepy and in fact fell asleep!
So what made the wise ones wise and the foolish ones headed for disaster?
What made them foolish?
Not being prepared essentially
The wise ones?
In it for the long haul
They had THE OIL
I love the song we did with the kids today – “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” – it’s a great song but like many songs its theology is a bit dodgy.
Why? Because while we are dependent upon God for our energy – like your supplier of electricity and gas at home – you have to get it connected and pay for it!
No we can’t earn salvation.
But we are responsible for our discipleship – our learning and getting equipped.
The 5 foolish lasses could not blame anyone else but themselves for not being organised – not thinking ahead – and not being in it for the long haul.
I only found one person who made a strong link between the symbol of the oil in this parable and the Holy Spirit!
What I did find is a lot of people referring to the need for preparedness and spiritual discipline – of living our lives with the right kind of orientation
– The wisdom that comes from building your house on the rock – on the words of Jesus
– Of hanging your door on the right hinges (loving God and neighbour)
– And faith IS linked to the oil –and there is good evidence for that as the foolish ones cannot get into the wedding banquet on the strength of someone else’s oil!
– Some link FAITHFULNESS to the oil – that while waiting for the Kingdom to be fulfilled – while waiting for Christ’s return – we should faithfully listen to his words and do the works that he prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2).
And of course SERVICE which we talked about last week is part of faithfulness. It is the sign of the Kingdom that Jesus seeks – that we be great by serving and being there for others.
– And living HOPEFULLY is a good thing too – because the expectation of the wedding feast – means that we are prepared for the long haul KNOWING that its worth it!
THE TRAGEDY OF THIS PARABLE
Mat 25:10 “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. PP9-1
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ PP9-2
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ PP9-3
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. PP10
How do we do as a church – when it comes to keeping watch?
What do you think we as a church should do to be be watchful? (3 MINUTES DISCUSSION)
My thoughts to conclude:
1. Being watchful does not mean being obsessed with predicting the end of the world. Too many people have tried that.
2. Being watchful means appreciating each moment and each day with gratitude. Note what Paul writes to the Thessalonians. After telling them this:
1Th 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1Th 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
1Th 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
He says this – some very practical things as they were watchful:
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
And in addition: 1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.
It’s about living a close relationship with the Lord – trying to hear from him – and doing the other things like serving him with faith and faithfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit!
We need to have enough oil to keep going! And when the end comes – whether we are here when Jesus returns – or whether we die in our sleep tonight – or some other interesting experience ends our life – we will be ready! That’s being wise!
It’s foolish to run around looking for oil when it’s too late!
Reading: Matthew 25:1-15
Weddings have various cultural peculiarities and traditions. Luckily you don’t have to do them all if you don’t want to – the legal side of getting married is less complicated than the complexities of “what has always been right”. One thing that is unusual in weddings – certainly the ones I have attended – is for the groom to be late. It’s only happened once to me as a marriage officer. The poor bride was left driving around in a car for 40 minutes. One can only imagine the conversation later that day.
THE WEDDING IN MATTHEW 25
The process was very different in bible times. In this incident they are nearing the end of that process. And a torchlight procession late at night was not unusual. In this parable there are ten bridesmaids on duty, as it were. The word translated as “bridesmaids” by some translations really means “virgins” or “maidens”. Either way, they had to go out in the dark with their torches lit – at the right time!
Jesus gets straight into it as he talks about the future and the Kingdom. Listen again: Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
If the foolish ones had been smart, while their more organised sisters were sleeping, they could have gone off to get oil. They managed later. Cleary this was available at the equivalent of the Four Square late night superette.
Like any group (or church) you get both kinds – wise and foolish. What’s also interesting is that the wise ones don’t lend to the foolish ones. Those torches only burned, we are told, for about 15 minutes. They knew what their responsibilities were and stuck to the task.
Of course we tend to fall back on the well-known song when we read this parable. You may know – “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning to the bread of day” – with all its verses! (Joy, love, peace in my heart, petrol for my Ford, wax on my board – keep me surfing to the break of day!). We tend to link the oil with strength to cope, or the power of the holy spirit.
The more central issue is being watchful and prepared. And the consequences of not being ready (being unwise therefore) are quite serious. Verse 10 begins to sound disturbing really. “And the door was shut”. Here’s the whole verse: Mat 25:10 “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.
The unprepared girls are locked out later – when they show up “organised” with their oil supply renewed. Jesus is quite matter of fact as he continues: Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
We tend to allegorise these stories. I found one sermon by the famous JC Ryle which was 36 pages long! Okay it was large print, but you can make a lot of these parables. If we do – then we have to talk about the oil. What does this mean for us? If it’s about salvation, you’ve got to get your own.
The more interesting question is this: how should we be wise rather than foolish as we await God’s coming into our lives and world today? And the last verse is the key point: Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Of course no one knows it. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And for a long time people have been waiting and hoping.
SOME THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER
One writer has suggested that waiting involves faithful living and living faith. The whole of Matthew spells out the kind of people we should be – going back to our previous salt and light sermon, through the Sermon on the Mount, and the other parables in part of the gospel – following Jesus requires faithful living and a living faith.
Another commentator writes this: The parable invites us to live our lives in celebratory anticipation, not sleepy apathy. It encourages us to stock up on lamp oil, despite the darkness of the night and the seemingly endless delay of the guest of honour. The parable dares us to be awake, vigilant, and, most importantly, hopeful.
Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 8932-8934). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
Perhaps you would like to consider these thoughts as well through the week ahead:
- It’s not about getting tired – they all fell asleep (like the disciples in Gethsemane). We all run out of steam at some point and need oil in our lamps in that sense!
- Think about being wise or foolish What is wisdom for us in our generation? Is this alertness and preparedness also about having an eye for the Kingdom? This is a Kingdom parable. Is it about focusing on what really matters?
- Is the ending harsh? The door is shut on them – He does not know them. You may remember this verse in Matthew as well: Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Mat 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Mat 7:23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Is their fate harsh in this parable? Or is this another serious warning – for the people of the day and for us too?
Tom Wright’s comments are worth closing with today. It’s hard to say this any better:
“There is one other aspect to this particular story which has roots deep in the Jewish context and has given rise to a tradition of hymn-writing about the coming of the bridegroom. Already in Matthew’s gospel Jesus has referred to himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9.15). In a previous parable Jesus spoke of the kingdom as being like a king making a marriage feast for his son (Matthew 22.2). Mention of a bridegroom hints again at Jesus’ messiahship, which was of course a central issue in the previous chapters, ever since Jesus arrived in Jerusalem.
This highlights the fact that the parable isn’t just about the very end of time, the great and terrible day for which the world and the church still wait. Throughout his ministry, Jesus was coming as Messiah to his people, Israel. They were the ones invited to the wedding feast. They, in this story, are divided between the wise, who know Jesus and make sure they keep alert for his ‘coming’, and the foolish, to whom at the end Jesus will say ‘I don’t know you’ (verse 12, echoing 7.23). Just as the Sermon on the Mount summarizes, not Jesus’ teaching to the subsequent church, but Jesus’ challenge to the Israel of his own day, so these parables, towards the close of the final great discourse in Matthew’s gospel, should probably be read in the same way, at least in their most basic meaning.
It is tempting to move away from this conclusion, because saying that parts of Jesus’ teaching related particularly to a unique situation in his own time might make it look as though they are irrelevant for every other time. But that’s not so. It is because what Jesus did was unique and decisive, changing for ever the way the world is and how God relates to it, that we have entered a new era in which his sovereign rule is to be brought to bear on the world. And in this new era, no less than in the unique time of Jesus and his first followers, we need as much as ever the warning that it’s easy to go slack on the job, to stop paying attention to God’s work and its demands, to be unprepared when the moment suddenly arrives.”
Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 134-135). SPCK. Kindle Edition.