Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 25:1–13
I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” It seemed to me the wise sort of thing someone says who has very good boundaries. Within that same week, it’s likely I made a late-night run to CVS for some missing piece of a school project or hurried to get a forgotten lunchbox to my child before noon. I’m aware that I should just allow the shoe to drop with one of these smaller issues to teach my children the principle of learning to be prepared. But when the stakes don’t seem so high, when the inconvenience isn’t that big a deal, I’m likely to hustle on their behalf like it’s my personal emergency.
That being said, there are times when lack of preparation can’t be fixed by even the most willing mother’s sacrifice. This Sunday’s gospel reading paints a sobering picture of how critical it is that we be ready for Christ’s return. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins. The setting is a wedding. The imagery He used was very familiar to His listeners but less so to us, so here’s a little context.
Back then, when a Jewish man wanted to marry a woman, he went to her father, asked for her hand, and a bridal price was set. From that point on, the two were considered betrothed, a commitment more binding than an engagement. To break things off would require a certificate of divorce. But the wedding and the consummation of the marriage wouldn’t take place right away. The groom would go off and work, preparing for the family he planned to have in the future. It usually took about a year for the groom to finish his preparations, and the bride never knew exactly when he would return. There would be a general idea, but she didn’t know the exact hour or day when he’d show up. But she was to be ready.
When the timing was right, the groom and groomsmen would come and get the bride, and the celebrations would begin with a torch-lit processional through the streets, which included the whole bridal party. They’d process through the streets till they came to the groom’s house, and there they’d have a wonderful wedding feast that would last for days. Our gospel passage is all about that bridal torchlit procession.
There were ten virgins (who would be called bridesmaids today) who were waiting with the bride for the bridegroom’s arrival. Each virgin was responsible for carrying her own lamp in the procession. She’d have her own torch, which was a pole wrapped in rags soaked in oil. Once the torch was ignited, the light would last fifteen minutes or so, and then it would have to be dipped in oil again to keep the light burning.
But in Jesus’s parable, only five of the virgins were prepared with oil. Only half were ready. They all had lamps and looked the part, but they did not all have the oil. The bridegroom came, and the foolish virgins started to scramble. First, they tried to borrow some oil, and then they attempted to buy it, but they were too late. By the time they got to the wedding feast, the door was shut. They begged to be let in, saying, “‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:11–12).
We can learn from two mistakes the foolish virgins made. First, they assumed they could borrow what they lacked. When the bridegroom came, they turned to the wise virgins and asked them to share some of their oil, but there wasn’t enough to share. The point being made was not that we’re supposed to be stingy. What Jesus was saying was that nobody can come to the wedding feast by hanging on to the coattails of someone else’s faith. As the saying goes, God has children, not grandchildren. Faith is not something that can be transferred to someone else. When one day we meet God face to face, it will not be enough to point to a spouse and say, “He had faith in you.” It won’t be enough to talk about the spiritual legacy of faith-filled parents. The question will not be, “Did someone close to you love, follow, and know Christ?” It will be a moment of personal accountability.
The second mistake the foolish virgins made was to try to quickly buy the oil once they saw that they urgently needed it. We behave the same way when we say, “I know I need to get my faith life sorted out and get my relationship with God in order. I’ll do it—at some point. Just not right now. Because my life is just so crazy, or I’m too young to need to take this seriously. Later. Tomorrow. Just not now. One day, I’ll settle down and get right with Him.”
But this parable is saying that the door gets shut. We aren’t promised that we’ll be given time at the end to prepare. According to Jesus’ words, those who have not prepared will hear the Master say, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). This is not to say that God doesn’t know anything at all about the person. God knows everything. It’s saying that He doesn’t know him or her personally, relationally, as one who belongs to Him.
The final words of our gospel today are Jesus’ instructions to us in light of what has just been taught. He says: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
Watch—stay awake—be vigilant.
This requires self-reflection and being honest about how serious we are about following Christ. It means being honest about what needs to be confessed and then confessing it instead of presuming God’s kindness.
And then it means moving our focus away from ourselves and onto the cross. We come there with our needs, and we meet our Savior. We draw close to look at Him. We see what our sin has cost Him. If we come in utter humility, then we will have the tremendous joy of watching as He opens the door and invites us into the wedding feast. We don’t deserve to be there. We haven’t earned a seat at the table. The oil cannot be bought or borrowed, but it can be given. If only we ask.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
Is there something in my life that I need to watch—to keep an eye on—because it is consistently drawing me away from the Lord? What is something concrete I can do to bring that area of my life under the control of the Holy Spirit?
Dear Lord, You are the giver of peace, and it is always on offer to me. Shed light on the things that rob me of peace—peace within myself, peace with other people, and peace with You. Give me the courage to look squarely at what I need to change. Convict me so that I confess it. Thank You for Your assurance of forgiveness and for always opening the door and meeting me with mercy. Amen.