Mad at the Maidens
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
November 6, 2020, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Unknown
This week’s text, The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, has often been used as a precautionary tale about who gets into heaven and who is left behind. It’s clear that Jesus tells the story in order to stir something up within his audience, his disciples. A couple thousand years later, I have to admit that the story is stirring something up in me.
Growing up in the church, this parable seemed pretty straightforward. There are ten bridesmaids with lamps waiting for the bridegroom. Half of them, the ones Jesus calls “wise,” bring spare oil for their lamps. The other half, who don’t bring extra supplies, are labeled “foolish” by Jesus. Inevitably, all ten bridesmaids fall asleep while waiting, and all ten lamps run out of fuel. But when the bridegroom finally arrives, the “wise” ones are able to immediately refill their lamps. They are let into the joyous banquet, while their counterparts are left behind.
I was always taught that I had to be like the wise bridesmaids. I had to make sure that I was “prepared” with enough oil, whether spiritual, doctrinal or theological, to make sure that I got into the party of heaven. If I wasn’t prepared, I was condemned to an eternity knocking on heaven’s door. The message appeared so simple on the surface.
But as I explore the passage more deeply, the neatly wrapped interpretation of my youth begins to fall apart.
I cannot help but pay attention to the suffering of the “foolish” bridesmaids as they are left outside crying to join the party. Perhaps I empathize with the foolish ones because I have become foolish by wanting everybody to join the festivities of the Kingdom of God. Maybe I have turned into a fool for renouncing some of the deepest exclusionary doctrines and faith practices that held my theology for many years.
And I have to admit that I am mad at the maidens who did not share their oil. They had the opportunity to create a space for the “foolish” ones to join the party. Why didn’t they try to convince the bridegroom to change his mind? Instead, they they abandoned them outside in their grief. It feels so hypocritical. After all, didn’t all ten fall asleep? Why are the five now turning their back on their compatriots?
Interestingly, Jesus’ warning to the disciples is not connected to the extra oil of the five “wise ones.” Jesus’ exhortation to his followers is to not fall asleep.
“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” If that is the case, could it be that we all fall asleep as we wait for the Lord? Could it be that we become comfortable with the status quo that blames the foolish bridesmaids for not taking enough oil, but exalts the wise ones for not sharing nor caring?
I believe that “falling asleep” is being comfortable with the suffering of others without moving a finger, speaking up or sharing our oil. Because in the end, we tell ourselves, it is the foolish one’s fault they don’t have enough. We can’t be blamed for not sharing.
If being let into the party means that we have to be selfish, exclusionary and abide by the systems that perpetuate exclusion and violence, shouldn’t we stay outside? If being awake, guarding the vigil of the night, is to expose the systems that make us complacent with the suffering of others, then we must stay awake.
The temptation is constant, but shouldn’t we rather be left outside with those who suffer than inside with those who exclude? Even more so, what if there is no outside or inside? Could it be that Jesus’ invitation is to stay awake, period? If that is the case, staying awake also means that we are aware that there is no insider or outsider in Jesus.