The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Being prepared, especially when you don’t know the outcome of what you are preparing for. That seems to be what this passage is about, and a good word for us today in these uncertain times.
When I coached cross country, there weren’t too many shortcuts to getting ready to race. One would have to have some discipline and drive to want to run year round. You never know what a race day will bring you, but if you didn’t run in the off seasons of summer and winter between cross country and track seasons, you would not be as ready for the season. And, when I say run year round, it was a commitment to run 5-7 days a week. If one did that, and followed the plan that we gave them, the runner would more than likely have a reduction of injuries because their bodies would be changing and adapting, and they would have the base necessary for the workouts that they would do before and during the season to give them the confidence and speed that they needed to compete.
Most runners did the work, some did not. And, when race season came, they would either try to find shortcuts or make excuses. Some had talent that they could lean in on, but in the end, they would never know how much better they could be…and some were simply happy to be on the team.
I enjoyed coaching them all, but would be especially proud of those who prepared themselves.
In this morning’s text, we have Jesus sharing this parable of the 10 bridesmaids. Now, we don’t know a lot about 1st Century wedding practices, but this seems like a lot of bridesmaids! Kind of like a southern wedding these days! And, there are some other oddities in this story, but the point that the author is trying to make is to be prepared, especially with the uncertainty of when the bridegroom shows up and the wedding starts!
It says at the beginning that they all have lamps that needed oil to be lit…five of them conserved their oil, five did not. They all fell asleep, all ten of them…when the bridegroom came at midnight to take them to the wedding reception, the five who had oil were ready, prepared, when they were awoken…the five who had used up their oil, panicked and asked the other five for some of their oil. The five who were prepared said that they couldn’t help, they wouldn’t have enough if they gave them some of theirs and to go to the dealers to get some. Now, it’s midnight, and I’m not sure what stores would be open, but the five bridesmaids went out and when they got to the wedding banquet, the door was shut and the bridegroom basically said that you should have been prepared and would not let them in.
Now, when you hear this story, you may think that’s awfully harsh, but when you dig deeper, you can see that the author is trying to warn its readers, Jesus followers 2,000 years ago and even us today, to be prepared. It’s not about describing a 1st century wedding…it’s about telling those of us who claim faith to know that the hour is unknown of when we may be called into action. That we have been given a gift of time to prepare, to be discipled, to fall in love with God, with our neighbors, and with ourselves even.
These bridesmaids were all similar…and when you look at the churches and faith communities around us, we all may look similar. But, those faith communities that are willing to prepare, to work on what it means to be “church”, to be a “beloved community” to listen to God’s voice and not the voices of those in the systems of this world trying to con us into following them or going along with the status quo, to those who seek God’s Kingdom and don’t just play at church…well, those are the prepared bridesmaids…and, the others, well they are missing out.
Friends, we are in uncertain times. We don’t know when things will change or how they will change. But, we’ve been given lamps with plenty of oil. Oil of love, community, friendship. We cannot squander that love or the opportunities that we have now…we can cultivate a new of being as we deepen our understanding of love and God’s kingdom…may we have eyes to see and ears to hear and the heart and will to follow and to seek God’s kingdom that is all around us, inviting us to the wedding banquet that God is throwing for us and the world.