‘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. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 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.” 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
This is the first of a series of parables Jesus tells whilst talking about the final time God will send the Messiah and call time on the world as we know it – they relate to the future and describe different aspects of the kingdom of heaven.
This one starts happily enough – there is going to be a wedding and we are to be ready to welcome the bride groom. Who doesn’t love a party! We are all cast in the role of the bridesmaids, traditionally girls or young women. Everyone thinks they are ready – but some have only prepared for the arrival, whilst some have also prepared to wait should there be a delay. I grew up a Brownie, Girl Guide and Ranger – with the motto ‘Be Prepared!’ ringing in my ears and taken to heart. I remember part of the challenge of parenting was to be prepared for my child’s needs when away from home. At different stages this meant taking with me nappies, a change of clothes, snacks, drinks, toys, books, colouring pencils and paper – particularly to help my child endure an unexpected time of waiting.
The surprise in this parable is that Jesus doesn’t want us to ‘be nice’ and share our oil (if we are one of the wise) but rather to ‘be prepared’ for the big moment when it comes, AND the wait in the meantime. So we will be ready to join in with the celebration banquet when it starts. The consequences for the foolish and unprepared seem harsh – they are too late and unknown, forever on the wrong side of a closed door.
Keep awake’ we are urged (yet both wise and foolish bridesmaids fall asleep in the story). Perhaps ‘Be Prepared’ is more helpful – be ready in body, mind and spirit – we truly never know when or where we might be called to respond to God’s presence and invitation. So we are left waiting in readiness….
Give me oil in my lamp – keep me burning Give me joy in my heart – keep me singing Give me love in my heart – keep me serving Give me peace in my heart – help me keep waiting Waiting til the break of day Ready to join in the heavenly wedding feast. Amen
Dr Sam Richards, serving as Head of Children’s and Youth Work, Messy Church team, Chalgrove