Ancient Oil Lantern
Life is so full of awe, mystery, and struggle. Jesus surely understood and wants to teach people deep truth about the kingdom of heaven. He is always trying to help people understand how to live better, meaningful lives. Sometimes he talks about end times. Sometimes he uses hyperbole, exaggeration. The parable about the ten young virgins (or bridesmaids) employs humor.
Ten virgins, we are told, and one bridegroom are going to meet at midnight. Imagine the people listening to him tell this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. The men must have been thinking ooo la la, and the women were probably laughing their heads off at the idea of ten young women going meekly to meet one guy. It would almost certainly spell trouble. Ten girls vying for the bathroom, maybe bickering, and jealous of one another. I can imagine them whispering about who is the prettiest, kind of like who is the greatest. There probably wasn’t a lot of cooperation.
This parable, however, is not about cooperation. It is about the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Gospel of Matthew, this parable follows Jesus’ strong speech about End Times. There are difficult days ahead. But in this instance, Jesus is in part trying to help the people relax and enjoy life, have a good laugh, as well as think about their lives.
There are five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. The wise ones use their heads. They bring extra oil for their lamps. The foolish ones maybe aren’t paying lot of attention and only bring lanterns and no oil. Maybe, they haven’t even checked to see if there’s oil in their lanterns.
The virgins represent the people. The lanterns represent the light of God. Bridegroom represents Jesus.
We are told clearly that no one knows when Jesus will come again. No one knows the hour of their death.
We have all been given the light of talents and skills. How we use them is important. If you don’t use your abilities, then you will lose them. That is a fact. So whatever light God has filled you with, you must attend to that light.
It is noteworthy that in Jesus’ talk about end times, within his warnings and woes to come, he says: “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
It is only AFTER everyone has heard the gospel of the kingdom preached that the end times of the whole world are going to happen. It seems then that everyone is going to get the chance to make a choice about what to believe and how to live fully.
We can add fuel to strengthen our faith, or we can let the flame go out. Faith is a gift. Life is a gift. It is not easy. But like all gifts we must take care of them.
For years, I had a ceramic horse that my brother Edward brought home from Spain. It got broken and glued back together. My brother didn’t remember giving it to me, but it was special. He had loved me enough to give me something precious.
That is what God does too. God loves us all enough to give us something precious. He gives Jesus who teaches us about the sacred Kingdom, the preciousness of life.
Ultimately, we are responsible for the gifts we have been given. We make the choices. The five wise virgins bring along extra provisions for the journey and for the waiting period. They act wisely because they do not know what is going to happen and they want to make sure they are prepared. What do we do to prepare ourselves spiritually for the return of Jesus? Are you ready? Helping other people is always a good thing, of course, but works alone are not definitive.
One minister wrote this: We’re told the wise maidens bring extra oil, and the foolish ones don’t. That sounds simple enough, but we’re on pretty shaky ground if we look for the easy answers, and decide that the oil represents Goodness, or Piety, or Works, or even Faith. If we do, then it starts to sound as though what’s important is the amount of oil we’re carrying around – as though we all ought to be doing extra good deeds, or praying extra hard, or living a perfect life, so that we can store up a spare flask full of midnight oil, ready to burn if the Messiah decides to pull a pop quiz at the end of days.
When the virgins are told that the bridegroom is coming, the five girls who have extra oil do not share it with their foolish companions. Why should they? Maybe they don’t want the competition.
But God is big enough for all of us, men and women.
So just what is Jesus’ point here?
In the parable of the worker in the vineyard, God pays the one hour workers as much as those who work a full day. It is God’s choice. Who is getting into heaven is God’s choice too—the five who are prepared get to enter the doorway with the bridegroom. The other five are off in a flurry of activity trying to buy oil at midnight. Everything is closed. When they rush back, the door remains closed to them. They are turned away from heaven’s gate.
The point is that we must get our priorities straight. What really matters? Do you feel sorry for the losers? Perhaps they were careless and lazy. Perhaps they thought they’d get to heaven no matter what they did or didn’t do. Perhaps they couldn’t afford extra oil. In any case, their lights went out.
The oil of the spirit is not about things. It is about the ways we enrich our faith and keep on trusting the process of the holy. All the spiritual disciplines help in this matter: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, fellowship and celebration (to name the ones Richard J Foster discusses in his spiritual classic, Celebration of Discipline).
Yet, even those of us who are deeply immersed in these practices can sometimes feel as if the light has gone out.
When we are true to the teachings of Jesus, we will be able to light the way though acts of kindness, charity, hard work, love, compassion, and fellowship. We will grow in these abilities not because we want to impress anyone else but because we are allowing God’s spirit to flow through us. We will use our skills, talents, passions to be a help to others. We will be ready to leave this earth when the time comes because even though we know there have been times when we have been the wise ones, there have also been times when we have been the foolish ones, yet God’s love is so great that we can trust his promises.
In the spiritual life, there is something called the Dark Night of the Soul. This is a time when a person feels disconnected from God. Unplugged. That is different than what is happening in the parable. Henri Nouwen, one of the greatest known 20th century writers of spirituality, experienced a terrible Dark Night of the Soul. Everything he’d believed seemed to be crashing down. He was depressed. He could not pray. He felt a deep painful loneliness. He wrote, “There are two realities to which you must cling; First, God has promised that you will receive the love you have been searching for. And second, God is faithful to that promise. So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need. Your whole life you have been running about, seeking the love you desire. Now it is time to end that search. Trust that God will give you that all-fulfilling love and will give it in a human way. Before you die, God will offer you the deepest satisfaction you can desire. Just stop running and start trusting and receiving. Home is where you are truly safe. It is where you can receive what you desire. You need human hands to hold you there so you don’t run away again. But when you come home and stay home, you will find the love that will bring rest to your heart. P. 12´ In “The Inner Voice of Love
The five foolish virgins simply haven’t been paying attention. They are off running around being busy when maybe if they’d hung around at heaven’s gate, they would have gotten in. They were too caught up with getting things right at the last minute, when getting things right is not about anything we can do, but is about our hearts.
Did they not know that God is love and Jesus is the healer, miracle worker, teacher, and friend?
Come home by trusting that the Kingdom of Heaven is not only later in some unfathomable way but is also now.
Come home and experience God’s love by opening your eyes to the preciousness of every moment.
Come home and experience God’s love in the people around you. Celebrate richness of soul. Celebrate goodness in the midst of struggle.
Come home in the here and now by getting to know Jesus and walking the walk. If you are not baptized, you might consider finding a church and proceeding.
Spiritual Practice: Take time. Be here now. This evening, when you go to bed, take a few minutes to remember how you have been immersed in God’s love. Perhaps in a smile from a child or a hug. Perhaps you have smiled at someone. Or seen birds flocking, and leaves blowing. Perhaps it is the meal you enjoyed. Or the ball game you watched with friends…or perhaps it is through music.