Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost
If you ever been asked to serve as a bridesmaid or groomsman then you know what an honor it is. In general, people select their closest and most trusted friends to be a part of their wedding party. Therefore, if you have been honored with the request to be a part of the wedding party you would never think of showing up late for the event. To do so would be disrespectful and impolite.
Well, if you think a wedding is an important social event today, weddings were even a greater social event in the world of the New Testament. Weddings were a community event, and the wedding feast usually lasted seven or eight days or even longer.
And a key part of the celebration was the bridal procession. From our Gospel reading today, we learn that the bridesmaids would wait outside the bride’s home for the groom and his attendants to come and claim his bride, and then together they would lead the entire party to the location of the wedding ceremony. And there the feast and the dancing and the celebration would go on and on.
I think we all can understand that it would have been a tremendous insult to both the bride and the groom for anyone not to be ready to join in this festive procession. One Bible scholar makes the following comment: “The foolish virgins were not excluded simply because the door was locked, nor because the host did not actually recognize them, but because they had insulted the bride and the groom, as well as all their relatives.”
The Biblical scholar further states: “The expression ‘I do not know you’ was sometimes used when one wished to treat others as strangers and keep them from approaching. This was an offense that they would never be allowed to forget. To participate in their friend’s wedding was a great honor. But to have spoiled the wedding for the bride by failing to do their appropriate part was a great insult to the bride and to the groom and to all the guests.” (C. Keener, Commentary of the Gospel of Matthew)
Now, it is not as though the five foolish bridesmaids did not have an opportunity to get ready for the grand procession.
We can clearly see in the text that they had plenty of time to secure a supply of oil for their lamps. But they did not.
So why did they procrastinate? We are not told why. Perhaps they thought that the groom would come sooner rather than later. Maybe they did not see the urgency of having a lit torch for the walk through the streets to the site of the wedding. Or maybe they were just lazy and thought that their companions would have enough oil to share with them.
But these are all weak excuses. When the groom approached, the fact is that they were grossly unprepared. And so, at the last moment they ran to the merchant to buy some oil, but it was too late. By the time they returned, the groom and the wedding party were gone. It was too late. The procession had left without them.
And we are told that the contrast between the wise and foolish bridesmaids is simply this: “The five wise bridesmaids have oil while the foolish bridesmaids have none.”
The wise virgins were ready to fulfill their responsibilities and join the procession. The foolish bridesmaids were not.
The wise bridesmaids recognized that it was an honor to be selected to be a part of the wedding party. They were prepared and ready to join the celebration. But the foolish bridesmaids were not ready because the foolish bridesmaids acted like the wedding procession was not important.
And so, the question is, what is the message of this parable? I think the message is this; that we are to be wise and not foolish. And what does it mean to be wise??? To be wise is to see our lives in the light of eternity. Psalm 90 teaches us to pray “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
What is a heart of wisdom you may ask? A heart of wisdom is a heart that knows that Jesus Christ is the bridegroom who was crucified for us and was raised again to give us life.
A heart of wisdom is to know that it is Jesus who gives us meaning and purpose to our days because His blood has redeemed us, and His resurrection has opened the door to heaven.
A heart of wisdom knows that if we gain everything that this world has to offer but do not have faith in Him, we have absolutely nothing. A heart of wisdom knows that Jesus will come again at an hour that we do not know and only those who have faith in Him will have access to His wedding hall.
To be a fool, on the other hand, is to live as though God does not matter. To be a fool is to live as though there is no marriage feast coming. To be a fool is to ignore the need for oil, or to think that it does not matter.
But the oil does matter, for that is what separated the wise from the foolish bridesmaids. To have oil symbolically means to have faith. To have oil means to trust that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. To have oil means to put our future in God’s hands and believe that in Jesus we have redemption, and the forgiveness of sin, and the hope of life everlasting.
In our text Jesus tells us “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” It is true that we do not know the date nor the hour. But we do know that Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead for us.
And that Jesus is with us today to give us the oil of forgiveness, so that we will be prepared to receive Him when He comes again to take us to the Heavenly Feast that He has prepared. Amen.
Let us pray: O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.