CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
- Matthew 25:1-13
Editorial deadlines being what they are, I’m writing this reflection well before the outcome of the general election is known. To call this in-between time uncertain would be a devastating understatement. It is also a time of unusual anticipation. For such a time, the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids is great company.
This parable is one of three in Matthew 25, the last chapter of parables. While authors may enjoy a freedom to dance around their themes in their works early on, they must ultimately move toward dénouement and weave together the strands of plot into a cohesive conclusion. After Matthew 25 comes the Cross, so it is fair to say that these three parables (the 10 Bridesmaids, the Talents, and the Sheep and the Goats) are the final pieces of information Jesus would have us consider before he enters his Passion. They belong to the parables of judgment (Greek: krisis), and crisis is at hand.
I once attended a wedding where there were 10 bridesmaids—the bride just could not choose to leave out some of her friends! Together, they brought a tremendous energy to the festivities, an unbounded source of optimism and celebration. This energy is captured in Jesus’s parable; the ten young women approach their job with gladness, pleased to be invited to the festivities. But the party soon becomes a slumber party, unable to really get going because the bridegroom is delayed. When he does arrive, all 10 trim the wicks of their lamps, but only half have brought a reserve supply of oil in order to dance the night away. There is a “krisis.”
As followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to contend with his parables. They are a trustworthy staff along the journey of faith. As careful students, we know that no one parable contains the whole of the Kingdom, but each one forms an unavoidable part in the cohesive whole. The Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids offers some hard truths.
In every one of Jesus’ judgment parables, before there is any exclusion, there is always total inclusion. The sheep and goats pasture together in the same flock. Everyone (good and bad, high and low) is invited to the banquet. Each bridesmaid receives the same invitation. That is because God’s greatest desire is for us to know him, to love him and to receive his love in return. This is why the invitation is for all. But it is also clear from Scripture that the feast of the Kingdom is of a very different order than those we regularly encounter. Those who will enjoy it are the ones who prepare for the difference.
The bridesmaids the parable calls foolish were not objectively unwise, at least not in a worldly sense, but they failed to prepare for the “krisis,” the long delay of the Bridegroom’s return. Those called wise knew that the unexpected most certainly can happen and thus had ready the reserve well of oil, their faith in the God who saves. For them, the party is one that could never chance be missed. They were prepared to encounter the unexpected.
The parable asks us for our decision: Is the banquet ultimately important enough for you to carry along a spare jug of oil? It’s a hassle, to be sure. It is even a sacrifice. Your decision to await the Bridegroom’s return—come what may—means that your life will be substantially different than those around you who do not.
It is never up to us speculate who is ultimately wise or foolish. What is up to us, with God’s help, is to walk the road before us with faith for all to see. Our lamps must be ready for the light of Christ to shine! While faith in God is not ours to give away (how I wish it were), we can certainly nurture faith in others by living lives of peace, generosity and joy. We can make the heavenly banquet real enough for all who hunger through our care of the poor and lost. We can use our lives to point straight to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the only Life worth living. Blessings on your journey!
Tags: Caminando with Jesus