Matt 25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For 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, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
This is another parable trying to make the people aware that the time is coming, and they had best be prepared. For a full story on the wedding ceremony read The Marriage Feast, it goes into more detail than I will here.
Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry, and he is continually reminding the people that they need to prepare for what is coming, so as not to be caught by surprise. Here he compares it to another common image in ancient Israel – the marriage. A contract was signed between the families of the bride and the groom outlining the responsibilities of the bride and groom to each other prior to their marriage and a date by which the tasks were to be completed. One such task was the building of a home for the couple (usually an addition onto the groom’s father’s house). When the time came near for the wedding day the bridesmaids would stand watch for the groom’s party, anticipating when he would complete his assigned tasks and come for his bride. Unlike today when we set a firm date no one was sure exactly when the groom would come to claim his bride, so they had to keep an eye out when the date was near.
In an era without street lamps of any kind the bridesmaids had to have oil lamps, with enough oil to last the night. Here we find that some of the bridesmaids only had the oil that was left in their lamps from the night before. Why? Jesus doesn’t tell us. Did they forget their flasks? Were the flasks empty and they forgot to fill them? Were they so busy they didn’t have time to go to the merchant and purchase more oil? We’re not told, just that these bridesmaids failed to fulfill their part of their duties – they were not prepared for the night’s watch. Now, at the stroke of midnight the groom has completed all of his preparations and goes with his groomsmen to the brides house, the bridesmaids see him coming and start their preparations, which include using their lamps to light the way to the bride’s home and then to light the way to where the festivities will occur.
Another piece of insight, it wasn’t just the bride who was in the dark about the date and time, everyone invited to the wedding did not know when it would occur. It was the duty of the groomsmen to go about calling everyone, announcing that the wedding time had come. Because of this the doors to the feast would be left open until all of the invited guests had been accounted. During this entire time the bridesmaids were holding their lamps, lighting the way to the gathering place. It was not until everyone who was coming had arrived that they would come inside as well. So, they had to keep their lamps lit the entire time.
The foolish bridesmaids realize that because they were not prepared they will not be able to light the way for the bridal party and the guests, a societal insult. The other bridesmaids won’t share their oil because they could not afford to run out of oil themselves, as there was no telling how long it would take for everyone to arrive. Not being able to borrow the needed oil they are forced to go to the merchants to purchase more oil. There are no 7-11’s, no WalMart’s, from which to purchase things late at night, so they have to go to the home of the merchant, wake him up, then persuade him to open shop and sell them the oil. After getting all of this done they rush to where the celebration is being held, only to find the door closed and locked. Desperately they knock on the door, but no one answers; or rather, no one opens. The groom does answer and responds that he does not know them, therefore he is not going to open the doors, so far as he is aware everyone who was invited is already inside. It could very well be that he doesn’t know them, remember he hasn’t had contact with the bride for close to a year. He may have no idea who she chose for her bridesmaids.
The church is the bride of Christ, and she decides who is and is not to be in the wedding party. She decides who shall be presented to the groom, Christ. The church, a representation of the Holy Spirit (not a denominational body), will present those who are worthy of entry into the celebration – the New Jerusalem. If the groom came tonight at midnight, would the church find you ready, or will the Spirit find that you were not prepared?