Vigilance and Understanding
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps."
November 10, 2023, Words By: Esau Oreso, Image By: Uknown
This parable draws parallels with the future kingdom of heaven, where the ten bridesmaids prepare to meet the groom. Ultimately, only half of them partake in the banquet, while the rest are denied access. This caution resonates with the preceding chapter, urging disciples to remain watchful and alert at all times (24:48, 42).
The delayed groom arrives late at night to find all ten bridesmaids, who had patiently awaited him, now deeply asleep. Swiftly, they awaken, trim their lamps, readying themselves to meet the groom. However, only five out of the ten have enough oil to keep their lamps burning. Half the bridesmaids with extra oil are deemed wise, while the other half with none are considered “foolish.”
Three primary issues emerge in this parable:
Unpredictability of the Groom’s Return: Manifested by the groom’s delayed arrival, the story underscores the unpredictability of his return. He arrives on his own terms, offering no explanations for the delay.
Waiting with Extra Oil: The bridesmaids must not only wait but also carry extra oil. The foolish bridesmaids seek extra oil from their peers unsuccessfully. The wise bridesmaids, cautious about the oil’s adequacy, decline to share, fearing it won’t last until the groom’s arrival.
Timing and Recognition: Even after finding extra oil, the bridesmaids must not only arrive on time for the banquet but also be recognized and accepted by the groom to gain access.
I am cautious about applying texts too readily that appear to divide individuals into those who are in and those who are out. Such divisions can easily lead to the creation of identities and boundaries that become violent and harmful to the cause of harmony and shalom in our world today. Perhaps my background of living and serving in a divided city informs my perspective. The damaging results of divisions along various lines in my city have become too real to ignore, hindering people from freely loving and serving our city. Could there be more to this parable than just the untamed groom and wise and foolish individuals?
A closer examination of the story reveals that it is not based on a real processional order of a Jewish wedding but is imagined by Jesus to challenge the missiological wisdom of the disciples. If true wisdom is the fear of the Lord, the wise bridesmaids should have shared their oil with their peers rather than keeping the groom all to themselves. Similarly, the disciples are invited to share the gift of the Son with others.
The absence of any mention of the bride in the narrative appears to be a deliberate Matthean tactic, implying that the ten bridesmaids collectively represent the bride. Consequently, Matthew concludes by urging the disciples to extend their outreach to the nations (28:19-20). Despite its seeming complexity, Jesus employs this narrative to emphasize the need for constant vigilance among his listeners, urging them to be watchful (25:13) of their potential biases. The message is clear: we are all called to stay vigilant in our perceptions of others.
Dwelling Among Us
How do we remain vigilant to the possibility of division, as Jesus appears to highlight, and how does the prospect of being acknowledged by the groom influence the way we present ourselves at the banquet?