Read Matthew 25:1-13
It’s about a wedding.
It’s about being watchful and ready.
It’s about the United States Coast Guard, right? Semper Paratus or Always Ready is their motto.
Yes, to all, and more.
It is best understood without allegory. Some key players are not even mentioned, the bride for instance. And when you come to the part about buying oil that is surely salvation, then we have a problem with purchasing what is given so freely. So we will not get allegorical in this parable, but we will find a very strong message for those who will hear.
We find ourselves listening to another story about a wedding, or at least some of the associated aspects of a wedding. Weddings were not a save the date thing back in the day. You knew that a marriage was forthcoming but the exact wedding date, well you could only guestimate. Now some guesses might be closer than others. You could swing by the groom’s new house, probably an addition to the family house or at least on the same property, and see how it was coming along.
Think back to the previous parable, the king sent out the invitation to the wedding banquet for his son as the feast was being prepared. The invited guests knew it was coming, they were just waiting for the announcement. It’s not like everyone would show up at the same time. People would be coming for days and staying for days. There would be quite the banquet and party before the bride and groom finalized their union.
Now the groom surely knew the story of Jacob and his first wedding and knew not to drink too much too early so he knew who he was getting hitched to, but that’s another story.
If the groom was just laying a stone a day building a home for his bride-to-be, then perhaps his enthusiasm level for the betrothal was not quite peaked. If he was burning the midnight oil, he wanted to get this show on the road.
The Hebrew man upon proposal to his bride—surely in concert with both sets of parents—would make a place for he and his new bride to live. The good thing was that in that day it didn’t matter if you were a wine maker or a fisherman, you probably knew how to build a house. Materials were readily available. Now if you wanted fine cedar from Lebanon to panel the inside, your father might need to have some money; but everyone could build a place to live.
Getting a mortgage—a loan to build a new house—wouldn’t make sense. Why go into debt for something that costs you mostly sweat equity. Surely, the were some material costs, but with dad’s help, you could build the place.
So you would tell your bride that you would go and prepare a place for her and then come and get her when it was ready. You would not tell her this unless you meant it. That sounds sort of familiar.
The story is about a wedding but mostly it’s about being ready. If the homeowner had known when the thief would break in, he would have held a reception. Surely Smith and Wesson would have been on the receiving committee and Colt 45 on tap. But criminals just never seem to show up when you want them to—how inconsiderate. You must be watchful and ready.
Not only watchful and ready but always ready. We are not speaking of a thief but of a time when Christ will return. Jesus made the comparison to something that people understood. The disciples surely wanted a date to put in their day planners or smartphones. But, the best we can do is to know the season. We can be watchful of the signs of the times.
Even then, we must not become complacent when things do not happen the way we think that they should. Remember, the Lord’s time and our time are not always the same time. The Lord is not slow in coming as we calibrate speed, he is patient; but he is coming.
He is patient because he wants all to come to repentance and to know his incredible love, but he is coming and we must be ready.
So, the parable is about being ready, always ready, and a wedding and associated banquet—and more. And more…
The parable goes back to the foundation of the world.
Wisdom was there at the beginning of the world. Wisdom is intertwined into the fabric of the universe. Wisdom remains the hallmark of God’s servants to this day.
The parable is about wisdom. Five of the maidens are wise and five are foolish. Five are ready for the bridegroom’s arrival and enter with the procession and get to enjoy all that is in store for them.
Five are foolish and are caught unprepared. They ask the other five to give them some of their oil and the five who are wise tell them to get their own. On the surface, it seems sort of harsh. “Sorry, girlfriend but you are on your own.”
Perhaps, Jesus should have preceded the reply of the wise girls with, and they loved the foolish girls and told them, go and buy your own oil. The wise were not being cruel or unkind, they spoke truth. In the context of the story, they might not have enough oil and then everyone would be out of luck. They brought enough for themselves. They were not oil merchants. They were bridesmaids. They were wise.
Today, you could probably go to Amazon.com and get 1 hour delivery by drone. In the parable, the foolish girls had to go wake up the oil vendor and buy more oil. I wonder if there was a middle of the night surcharge. It didn’t matter. They didn’t make it back in time.
Go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves. There are some things that I cannot give you. I can’t give you my:
· Wisdom. I can teach and mentor and encourage you to learn, but my wisdom is my wisdom whether it is much or little. You have to get your own. Many of us have longed to be able to just transplant or download wisdom into our kids, especially during their teenage years, but you can’t do it. The good news is that if you are truly seeking God’s wisdom, he is so generous in giving you just what you need. God gives wisdom and he is not stingy about it, but I can’t give you mine.
· Salvation. I can’t re-gift the greatest gift of all time, nor do I need to. It is available to all who will receive it. You can get your own, and I hope that you have already done that.
· I can’t give you my readiness. If you live in my house you might get the benefit of my readiness if someone breaks in while I am home; but readiness is something that everyone must negotiate on their own.
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that the people should be wise for the days are evil. There is much evil in the world and we need to make the most of every opportunity to obey God and love our neighbors. There will be a time, surely in the middle of all the wickedness of the day, when Christ will return. Will we be ready?
Today, we are a people who need our guidance summarized in a tweet or a Facebook post where you don’t have to click the hyperlink that reads “more.” So here is Tom’s tweet on this parable. I make it indicative and not interrogative.
When Jesus returns, he is going to catch us doing exactly what he told us to do!
We are saved. We practice wisdom. We are ready day or night, sooner or later, early or late, summer or winter—sometimes in Oklahoma it’s hard to tell them apart—for Jesus to come and claim us because we obey him. We are his. We are completely his. The world does not receive our affection. Our love for God is manifested daily in our love for our neighbors. Our oil vessels remain full.
Our lamps won’t go out!
We are ready!
There are words in this parable that I don’t ever want to hear. I don’t want to hear them spoken to me. I don’t want to hear them spoken to you, and because God is shaping me in the image and likeness of Christ Jesus, I don’t want to hear them spoken to anyone.
Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.
Jesus had parables about fishing, building a house, shepherds, and even father and son relationships. Occasionally, he had one that involved the women. Society was male oriented, but Jesus still included parables with the women. In this case they were young women, bridesmaids if you will.
Let’s note something about these bridesmaids that often gets overlooked or sometimes modern day presumptions take over. Sometimes, those presumptions make it into the translation. Sometimes, they may be correct. But consider the third verse in this parable.
Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
In the original Greek, the word extra is not there. Some modern translations add the word presuming that nobody would show up with a lamp that doesn’t have oil or subsequent remarks a few verses later, but the original words that we have say that the foolish took lamps but no oil.
Who would do that? Answer that question for it is not rhetorical.
Fools despise wisdom.
What kind of person brings a lamp and no oil? The person who detests and despises the ways of God.
I can’t beat up the translators too much because later the foolish girls ask the wise ones for oil because their lamps are going out. I have to ask, were they ever burning in the first place?
Before we continue, I tell you that I don’t like cute when it comes to biblical interpretation. I think considering the literary, textual, tradition, and historical lenses for any exegesis is beneficial. Even the redaction criticism—how the biblical writings were assembled by their final authors or editors thousands of years ago—brings benefit.
But the exegesis titled, “cute” or “neat” or “funky” doesn’t work for me. What do I mean? People who read the Bible and preach, develop curriculum, and otherwise launch into expository commentary sometimes resort to cute. That is they find a lesser used meaning of a word that fits very well into context as is or twist a phrase to mean something that sounds good but perhaps lacks fidelity to the original intent or the full biblical witness.
It is good to explore these possibilities. They make great Bible study inquiries in a Berean type model, but we must be careful about making them doctrine or becoming dogmatic and straining out gnats at the expense of missing the very clear message. That said, I think it worthwhile to consider that the foolish maidens brought no oil at all.
That would be to take verse 3 literally and to regard with some skepticism the comments of the foolish. Who ever said that the foolish always speak the truth. For those who made it through the Proverbs with me a couple years ago, we know that this is not the case. My guess is that the foolish girls just grabbed their lamps and went to the place where young maidens waited for the bridegroom to arrive. When they realized they were unprepared, they concocted the best story they could come up with at the time. The foolish seldom let the facts get in the way of the story. The foolish think that their lack of effort, concern, readiness, and general disobedience will somehow prompt an emotional response from the wise to do things that they are not called to do.
People still run out of gas today, even with all the bells and whistles on modern vehicles. If I am driving cross country and know what’s ahead, I will push the limit on my gas tank; but when I come home for the night, I usually like to have at least half a tank. I don’t know what the night holds in store and if I get a call at 2:00 a.m. it is usually not something that will wait until 2:00 p.m. The last thing I want to do is have to go fill up may gas tank. There is just something about being prepared.
Perhaps the words of the wise maidens to their foolish counterparts were founded not only in wisdom but in recognition of those with whom they were dealing. You need to go get your own oil. You need to realize what is at stake here. You need to wake up, get out of your business as usual mode, and do what the Lord requires of you!
Let’s roll the clock back 2,500 years from the first telling of this parable. Noah, worked on the ark for a long, long time and people scoffed at him, but beyond that, they went about their business as usual. You think after 25 years or 50 years, people would stop labeling this man as crazy and start asking, “Just what is he getting ready for?”
Matthew’s 24th chapter is what I call Eschatology for Fishermen. The Parable of the 10 Virgins follows this short course on end times. What’s in this chapter? Many signs of the end of the age for one thing but also the fact that people will continue to live in a business as usual mode. It’s just another day.
Some people will continue living—existing—as if there is no accounting for their lives. They know that there is. They may say otherwise and their lives say otherwise, but people know that they must account at some point; but denial comes easy when you believe the world’s version of anything or everything.
Who would haul a lamp around with them and not bring any oil? Someone who is vested in the world’s version of everything—someone just going about business as usual.
Remember how this parable begins, “At that time, the Kingdom of Heaven will be like…” What is the antecedent here? Eschatology for Fishermen or the short course on end times—Jesus is talking about his Father’s kingdom at the end of this age.
Some will be living in it and ushered into the next age ever so naturally. Others will have never known it and can only wonder about what they missed.
We may wait a very long time to see the end of the age but everything that we do for the rest of our lives is done in obedience while maintaining readiness and it is done with urgency. Obedience and readiness are for our own good, but urgency is for those who may one day hear the words, “I do not know you.”
If we have the heart of Christ—that divine heart being shaped inside of us—then we will not hesitate to tell those that we know who do not know him, to go at once and buy oil for yourselves. Deliver the gospel to them.
Do not think that your salvation covers them. “He’s with me,” isn’t going to get it. You know him or you don’t. That’s the sort of thinking that says, “I’ve earned my salvation and can do what I want with it.”
And for those who know him, we make him known from now until kingdom come—this kingdom that will be a part of the age to come. Urge those who do not know God and his Love that goes by the name of Jesus to repent and believe the good news.
We are wise. The days are evil. We are ready. We are obedient. We keep watch. We live in God’s kingdom now. When Jesus comes back he is going to catch us doing exactly what he told us to do—love one another. We are ready.
Some are not. They are foolish. They are disobedient. They do not keep watch. They live in a business as usual mode.
We love them, warn them, counsel them with truth spoken in love, but we do not subsidize their foolishness.
Go and buy oil for yourselves. This is a message of love. This is not being harsh or unkind. This is a message of love.
Let me frame this one last way. What if Jesus sent you to answer the knock at the door and said tell the people knocking—perhaps someone you know—that you do not know them. Would you not rather share the gospel one more time or with one more person or for one more day than deliver this message?
I do not know you.
If we are truly living in God’s kingdom now, we don’t desire God’s exclusion of anyone. You can’t give anyone your own salvation, but you can lead them to the one who holds theirs. The time to do that is now. We are ready for the day of his return, but so many are not.
While we won’t speak in parables to the lost of our age very often, we need to have ears to hear this parable and find ways to tell the foolish and apathetic and ambivalent to go and buy oil for themselves.
We are called to take the message of salvation to the lost, many of whom are foolish, and we are called to do this—our lampstands shining brightly with God’s love—until the end of the age.