Keep awake. Ten maidens sleeping, awakened to the cry at midnight. “The bridegroom is coming.”
This parable is yet another allegory. The wedding is the coming of Jesus, the bridegroom is Jesus, the maidens are the members of the church, the wedding banquet depicts the fully realized reign of God, and the rejection of the foolish maidens indicates the final judgment.1 So we, the church are the maidens in this tale. The delay of the bridegroom was longer than hoped for, longer than expected.
We do not do well with delay. We like the package we ordered to arrive as soon as we order it. We want the annoying hold music to stop and to actually speak to a human when we call customer service. In our spiritual journey, we are the child, constantly crying out “Are we there yet?” So falling asleep once midnight hits seems obvious. We are easily distracted. Which is why I will repeat the words, “Keep awake.” Stay prepared.
All ten maidens look exactly the same. Dressed for a wedding. Lamps at their side. Sleeping in the dark. None look foolish in this scene. And we can walk through everyday life looking prepared, too. We come to church and sit in the pews, or go to Sunday School, and clearly that’s enough to be ready for the day that Jesus comes again, right? Perhaps we need to look at what makes some bridesmaids foolish.
The foolish were foolish for their lack of preparedness. They expected the bridegroom on time, in the way they had imagined him to come. Perhaps they rushed, without thinking of everything they would need. This is precisely what makes the 5 ladies foolish.
The wise packed extra oil. And because the oil represents our faith, our spiritual “backup reserves”, the other 5 bridesmaids can’t really give it to the unprepared bridesmaids. This work is part of a lifetime’s journey of spiritual discipline and trusting in faith. The foolish did not realize the importance of the wedding. They had no idea what was at stake. And sometimes, we are foolish. We’ve all gone on a road trip and forgotten something important. Do you turn around to get it, or do you continue the journey and trust you can live without it?
The problem we face in this parable is that we are faced with two realities: the rules we create about proper etiquette in this world, and the demands God places on our hearts for the good of the Kingdom. And every time we find ourselves sleeping on the job, we are hastened awake in a fury. The bridegroom is with us.
When we are properly prepared, the oil of our soul is always with us. The light of Christ is shining so that others may see our good works and know that the glory is God’s, not our own. Deeds of mercy and prayer, studying God’s word through Bible study, forgiving others, fighting for justice and peace, faithfully attending worship in community. These are just a few examples of how we keep our lamps trimmed and burning,