This parable has so much to teach us…if we don’t ask for it to teach us too much. That is always the trouble with eschatology, end times things. We want to know more that is ours to know.
The biggest thing I think it means to tell us is to know the time. It is a parable about the Day of the Lord, the time of fulfillment. As such the most important things in that time are different that today. Today things like wise and foolish are not locked in. Today is a day of grace. Today is a day when the oil may be procured and the lamps prepared. For the night is coming when no work may be done. Sleep comes to all. And that is why Jesus tells us this parable. Not that we might know everything about That Day, but so that we may prepare for it.
The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.
Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.
The sermon text is the the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. The title of this post comes from a comparison I make between the parable, a famous psychology experiment and the situation of the Christian life. If you know the test, it is done leaving a toddler with a marshmallow and a promise. The comparison is made in questioning exactly what type of test this is: willpower, trust, taste or just a cruel joke. I think those are how many people would categorize the second coming of Jesus: a test of holiness, a test of faith, a factor of election or just a joke. The parable would say simply faith. All fell asleep ruling out holiness. The Wise actively prepared ruling out pure election. The bridegroom promises return ruling out joke for those who believe. The over-riding point is faith, with a secondary point of the necessary things to remain in the faith.
And the that secondary point is sticky point. Nobody can share their oil. How you prepare, how you keep faith, is up to you. The church can point at wise ways. It can point at foolish ways or ways sure to shipwreck the faith, but nobody can give you their oil. You must live your Christian life.
Program Note: I’ve left in more than the typical number of hymns as they seemed to record well and were tight with the overall theme. The choir sings Rejoice, Rejoice Believers. I then at that end leave in the hymn after the Sermon and the closing hymn: Rise, My Soul to Watch and Pray (LSB 663) and The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644) respectively. Take those two as a couple of the wiser ways of preparation.
…the foolish bridesmaids failed to understand that in a time when you are unsure of the time you are in it is all the more important to do what you have been taught to do. In the dark you must keep the lamps ready even if they are not able to overcome the darkness.
Some may think Jesus’s parable to be quite unfair to the bridesmaids who had not prepared ahead. Those who stress compassion as the hallmark of what makes Christians Christian cannot help but think that the bridesmaids with the oil should have shared with those without. But if they had shared their oil when the bridegroom had come, there would have been no light. Those who follow Jesus will be expected to lead lives that make it possible for the hungry to be fed and the stranger welcomed, but the practice of charity required a community prepared to welcome Christ as the bridegroom, for he alone makes possible hospitality to the stranger in a world where there will always be another stranger needing hospitality.