Another day, another warning about the end times and the return of Jesus! Today is Wednesday and my name is Alan. Let’s take the time together to consider a story that Jesus told and what he might be saying to us today. The story is in Matthew 25:1-13. Rather than read the passage at the end today, I am going to read all of it now.
READING: Matthew 25:1-13
‘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.
Yesterday we heard the tale of two servants, one wise and one wicked. Today we hear the story of 10 virgins, 5 wise and 5 foolish. But let me get this straight, 5 were shut out because they didn’t have enough oil… Jesus says to them, ‘I never knew you!’ This sounds pretty harsh. What are you talking about Jesus!?
The first thing to say is the story is about when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead (as it says in the creed that we say at church sometimes). The story also sounds pretty weird to us. But a bridegroom turning up at an unknown hour with virgins waiting to escort him in to the party celebrations after dark was a commonplace 1st century Jewish wedding custom. This would have been very familiar to everyone listening to Jesus as he told this story. So what is it all about and why the heck didn’t those with extra oil share with those that had none?
Is this Jesus’ equivalent of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ pledge!? Is Jesus saying in essence, ‘you’ve got to look after number one… ?’
Well… er… almost!
But this isn’t Jesus saying that we should be selfish, that wouldn’t fit with the rest of Jesus’ teaching and the example he set, instead we should look at this from the foolish virgins’ point of view.
Let’s do a quick multiple choice quiz question: Who is to blame for them missing out on the wedding party?
(A) The bridegroom?
(B) The wise virgins?
(C) Or the foolish virgins themselves?
I hope you all chose (A) the bridegroom… only joking!… the answer is of course (C). The people to blame, those who are ultimately responsible for the virgins’ lack of preparedness is themselves. They must take responsibility for their own actions in the same way that we must take responsibility for our own actions.
Also, it is worth noting that some things in this life cannot be shared or borrowed. Things like someone else’s prayer life, or their dedication and devotion to God, or even their salvation. We cannot do it for others… we have to put the effort in ourselves. We have to partner with God and allow him to shape us and transform us into his likeness. This won’t happen without us and no-one else can or will take responsibility for the choices we make today. Jesus tells this story to warn us… and it is a pretty stark warning. Everyone is invited to the feast – to be with Jesus for eternity when he returns to earth – but not everyone who is invited will be granted access: ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
You will notice from the story that all of the virgins were the same, they were probably a similar age, dressed in their best dresses, carrying their lamps, excited about the wedding… We Christians all look similar from the outside, but what we do in the inner room, in private, behind closed doors… whether we choose to cultivate our relationship with God, whether we strive to improve our connection and intimacy with our Father will ultimately determine our acceptance or rejection. No matter how big our church, or how grand our ministry, how well known or seemingly successful… all of this counts for nothing.
Jesus says in Matthew, “Ask, seek and knock…” don’t ever stop, don’t ever think we’ve arrived, God has so much for us.
Father thank you for Jesus, for his death on the cross that bought our salvation. Thank you that there is no longer anything that stops me from drawing close to you. Help us not to take this for granted but to learn how to use this great privilege as you want us to. Amen.