This morning, we once again turn our attention to the Gospel of Matthew. Today, we focus on one of Jesus’ parables – a simple story that has a deeper meaning.
Please turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses one through thirteen.
Scripture Matthew 25: 14-30
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘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.’
10 “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.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Message Tending God’s Light
I don’t know about the life experiences of many of you, but I have never trimmed a lamp or lantern wick. I have seen kerosene lanterns lit up, but have never had to rely on one to illuminate a room. So, I turned to a YouTube tutorial about how to light an ancient lamp to learn all about it. In the first century, the lamps were made of stone, metal, and the most common form of lamps were made out of clay. In Israel, the oil used in lamps was typically olive oil and the wicks were made of linen rope.
The virgins who were supposed to meet the bridegroom would have trimmed the wick of their lamps by cutting off the burnt parts of the linen rope so that the light would burn clear. The burnt part of the linen wick would have made the lamps smoky and the smoke would have blocked the light.
Our wedding traditions differ from 1st century wedding traditions, and we don’t have bridegrooms arriving to our wedding banquets at night. In the 1st century, the virgins would have been relatively young girls, since women were married soon after puberty. I imagine it would have been pretty to have a bunch of little girls lined up with lamps welcoming the groom to the wedding – it would be similar to us having a group of 10 flower girls at one of our weddings.
Parables have many meanings at the same time. On the surface, Jesus used this parable as an illustration to remind his listeners to prepare for Jesus’ return. In the timeline of Jesus’ life as found in the book of Matthew, Jesus gave this lesson in the middle of his final Holy Week. His followers didn’t know that Jesus was about to die on the cross. They also didn’t know Jesus would return on Easter. So, this parable is foreshadowing that Jesus would surprise his followers by returning on Easter.
This teaching also is about Jesus’s second coming. Christians have long believed that Jesus will return to earth. We don’t know when he will appear, so part of our work is to live out faith – don’t put off being a good Christian because Jesus can return any moment. So, acting as a Christian is not something we should delay – we can’t start loving our neighbor later….we can’t start praying later….we can’t start keeping the 10 commandments later….because later may be too late. As Jesus said, we won’t know the day of the hour, so we must work to always be prepared.
In this parable, all of the virgins fell asleep while they were waiting for the bridegroom. None of them were perfectly faithful while on duty waiting for the groom to arrive. The parable teaches that the wise virgins were more prepared than the foolish virgins who ran out of oil. But, looking at this through a Christian lens, aren’t we commanded to be generous? Why couldn’t the wise virgins share with the foolish virgins? Our work as Christians is to share – to share with people who are foolish, to share with people who are troubled, to share with people who are suffering, to share with people who are in need. Part of our work is to share the Good News and to welcome others to also have a relationship with Jesus – we are called to both deepen our relationship with God and share the Christian message with others who don’t yet have a relationship with God.
Jesus wants us, his followers, to work on developing our lives of faith today – to pray, to study the scripture, to worship, to focus on our faith. And, we are called as believers to not keep our faith to ourselves – we are called to share generously with others, to demonstrate our faith with our attitude, our actions, and our words.