Matthew 25:1-13, CSB
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’
9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’“
12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’“
13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.“
There were three stages in every ancient Jewish wedding.
- Engagement–when fathers got together to make sure that it would be a good match.
- Betrothal—a ceremony in which formal promises were made by the lovers.
- Marriage—a surprise arrival, usually a year later, by the groom at the home of the woman.
Each was incredibly important. There couldn’t be any short-cuts; one just didn’t jump into this. It wasn’t a Las Vegas approach to just getting hitched. This parable was an extension of the previous verses in Matthew 24:36-51 and had to do with being prepared.
We can extract this from the third step of marriage. The groom would show up at night, and torches were used to light their way, (apparently the flashlight hadn’t been invented yet). Within Jesus’ parable was the idea of suddenness or surprise.
But no one knew exactly when the groom would show up.
Hence there is an emergency feel to this story. The text states in verse 5:
“Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”
The story hinges on this sentence. Readiness is the issue here. Everything of any significance must take on the sudden arrival of the groom’s entourage. The virgins, apparently, would go out to meet him—the torches mingling their light, and drive out any darkness. (It seems that 10 was the acceptable number for a proper rabbinical ceremony).
The problem was that only 1/2 of them were ready. It’s interesting to note that everyone was sleeping. Obviously, that didn’t mean anything for it was the availability of “oil” that would make the difference. The idea was a surprise visit.
The oil was the key. And for us, it represents the Holy Spirit.
Sleep is not the whole issue here, but being prepared is. Five girls were foolish, they were simply not ready. They realized their error and tried to finagle oil from the others, but ultimately that would short everyone in their group. There was an idea that a trip to the local oil merchant would work. It was an idea anyway.
But it was already too late!
The door was closed. The five simply missed it. They stood outside knocking and calling, but they didn’t enter in on time. Reading between the lines, I sense they were desperate. Verse 12 is meant to penetrate and reveal the price of tolerating spiritual sloth.
“He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’“
The purpose of this parable is the ending line that stresses alertness in a society that dulls everything. The temptation is to act like you’re spiritually aware when you’re not. It’s one of our greatest sins. We assume our lamps are lit when the reality is that our oil (the Holy Spirit) is running close to zero. When our sloth gets mixed with hypocrisy it’ll surely destroy us.
We’re snoring our way to spiritual death.
We must resist slumber and slothfulness. Jesus asserts that his virgins must be prepared and ready for his coming. We must be ready, we must—the price of our unreadiness is high indeed.
“Take care of giving up your first zeal; beware of cooling in the least degree. Ye were hot and earnest once; be hot and earnest still, and let the fire which once burnt within you still animate you. Be ye still men of might and vigor, men who serve their God with diligence and zeal.”
Art by Eugène Burnan