The Parable of the Ten Virgins
"Keep watch," Jesus says. But keep watch for what? When we are vigilant for Christ should we be watching for just the right guy to rise to power? I doubt it. Just the other day, I was driving down the highway by myself and missed a chance to pick up a hitchhiker. I chose not to stop for him because I was in a school district vehicle. But was Jesus in that man? Could my relationship with Christ have grown deeper by helping him down the road? I was off in my own head, rather than being ready to help someone out in the name of Christ. Vigilance was key, but I missed the opportunity.
When the Parable of the Ten Virgins begins we're in the middle of a series of parables where Jesus teaches about end times. Just before this parable he tells us to "keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
He gives us a clue who not to look for when he explains, "Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather." The carcass he is talking about is the antichrist, or the antichrists as John describes them in his epistle. They are the walking dead around whom people gather. We humans are always following charismatic individuals and making them god. Jesus explains that 'vultures' will gathering around these types of individual to eat and bask in their false-glory and that is the last place we want to be. Do you have a charismatic leader in your church. Why do people love him or her? Do they love him for the right reasons?
But let's dive into the Parable of the Ten Virgins and learn how Christ is revealed and not worry about the antichrist.
“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 ones, 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. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
We are told that "At midnight the cry rang out" when the bridegroom arrived. The trumpets of Revelation give a similar pronouncement. When he comes in glory, there will be no mistaking him. It will be clear when Jesus comes again. So, we should not look for him here and there. Even still, he requires our vigilance, our ability to "keep watch," so we can prepare ourselves and others for the kingdom. Though he comes like "lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west," he also comes to us before the cry rings out for the redemption of our world, when we are unaware. We meet him in the poor and downtrodden of our world. We meet him in our prayers.
In the parable, there are two sets of virgins: the foolish and the wise. The foolish had no oil for their lamps. The wise had stored up oil. Take note that they fell asleep because the bridegroom was a long time coming. Similarly, when we die, we fall asleep, and just like our night sleep, we seemingly arrive instantly to the morning. Could the same thing happen when we die? Maybe it will be like the best night sleep ever. Let's hope so.
Three of the key components of the parable are the lamps, the oil and the light. What are they and how do they differ? In Salt and Light we took a look at what the light may be that Jesus speaks of. The light is the love that comes through us from Jesus. The lamp is our hope, our faith, that looks out into the darkness for our Jesus.
But what is this mysterious oil? The early church fathers seemed to believe the oil was good deeds stored up in heaven. In the Sermon on the Mount as well as other places, Jesus makes it clear that we should store up "treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Paul says the same thing, but explains exactly what those treasures are. They are good works.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:18-19
At the end of the Parable of the Virgins, Jesus explains why it's so important that the virgins have oil in their lamps. He says to the virgins who had no oil, "Truly I tell you, I don’t know you." It is through good works that we get to know Jesus. These works are how we come to know him. We shine his light through us and as his light (his love) goes through our lamp, our eye and our body as he communes with us. We love him and he loves us through those works. We develop a relationship with him. Of course, this also happens in prayer, but it deepens when we act on those prayers with others. Good deeds are an offering and an act of worship to him.
It seems Jesus chose the number five, five wise virgins and five foolish ones, because each hand has five fingers. The numbers pointed to the right and left hand of God in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats that followed, and it is in this parable where he explains how we broaden our relationship with him. He says to goats on his left: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
The sheep on the other hand were the ones with whom the significant relationship was built and sustained. Oil is stored up for our lamps by loving Jesus through loving others. David emphasizes that this oil is an oil of peace that must run over to the edges of humanity. He explains that this peace must be displayed to the people on the outer margins of society, all the way to the edge of the "collar of his robe." We can't exclude anyone from the works of God's love administered through us.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
We must "Keep watch," so we will not miss the opportunity to get to know Jesus by loving others who are in need.