Today’s focus is Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus’ stark parable about bridesmaids and lamps. The story reveals five wise bridesmaids who were prepared with extra lamp oil, and five foolish bridesmaids who chose not to bring extra oil. The situation became serious when the man of honor arrived, the bridegroom who would soon be married. The bridegroom became angry when he discovered that only the five wise bridesmaids with extra oil were prepared for his imminent wedding celebration.
Prior to the bridegroom’s arrival, the foolish bridesmaids tried to get the wise five to lend them some oil. “‘No!’” was the reply from the wise bridesmaids, who rightly reminded the foolish bridesmaids that by sharing, there wouldn’t be enough and then all ten bridesmaids would be unprepared. The foolish five then went to buy oil, and when they returned to the wedding party they were refused entry because they were late.
The story of the foolish bridesmaids who didn’t prepare relates extraordinarily well to contemporary life. People in all sorts of situations refuse to plan ahead or to take any thought about their state of readiness. As to the refusal of the wise bridesmaids to share, Jesus wasn’t suggesting that simple sharing is wrong. The moral of the story has more to do with either choosing to be prepared or choosing to be blithely unprepared. Accordingly, Jesus was speaking against such problems as laziness, apathy and irresponsibility. The issue was the five bridesmaids who were deliberately ill-prepared. The five foolish bridesmaids might have been excused if something happened beyond their control, or if there were extenuating circumstances. Sadly, this was not the case and the fools ended up missing the wedding banquet and being condemned.
Although the message of the bridesmaids parable at first appears heartless and harsh, Jesus was criticizing people who, because of their intentional attitudes and actions, face important circumstances grossly lacking. The problem would not be magically solved if the wise bridesmaids had shared. The problem of unpreparedness would have been compounded if the laconic bridesmaids dragged down the wise with them. This explains why the request of the five foolish bridesmaids was legitimately refused by the wise bridesmaids. Had the five wise bridesmaids shared their oil, the implication is that the diluted state of readiness would have meant ruin for everyone.
An overt issue underlying Jesus’ message in this parable addresses the end times, the sunset of humanity. Jesus concluded his parable by admonishing the audience to remain awake and alert, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25: 13). So, in the spirit of the parable, people who seek God can choose now to be ready for when God calls, either through the ending of an individual through their death or the end of humanity through the parousia, otherwise known as the history-ending return of the Christ. Jesus’ message suggests that people should prepare, whether that means for the end of your life or the supposed end of the human species through the apocalypse.
Some critical questions emerge from Jesus’ parable about readiness. Are you willing and able to respond to God’s call? Are you awake and aware so that you make wise decisions and know what’s going on? Being prepared doesn’t mean ignoring the present through the paralysis of worry. Being mindful and living in the moment means that you are neither immobilized by fear of the future nor regret for the past. God is inviting all of us to capture the unique strength of now, a state of being which will overcome past failures and help people prepare for tomorrow. Share the power and promise of God’s Spirit with those around you before the divine bridegroom ends the party. –Reverend Larry Hoxey