The Foolish Five; Twice

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. “And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. “And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ “But the prudent answered, saying, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. “And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ “But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

“Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” This is the explanation of this parable from Jesus. He tells his disciples, alone, to be on alert, twice. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming,” and; “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” Jesus also used parables to demonstrate the fact that they don’t know when he will be coming.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom.” Could there be some cross-cultural confusion here? Was it common in those days for ten brides-to-be to go out with lamps to meet a bridegroom? Or was Jesus foreshadowing our modern reality TV, where suitable suitors vie for the love of a lady and unmarried maidens manipulate matters with the hope of marriage to a man? We have to consider the context and understand that this is a parable not meant to be taken literally but to portray a larger purpose. We must also consider their cultural climate and context to cultivate this parable in our minds. This is not the “Bachelor,” these are not would-be btides vying for the attention of the bridegroom, but rather the servants of the bride. We would call them, “bridesmaids.” In the first-century, Jewish culture, the bridesmaids would proceed the bride to the bridegroom’s house.

“Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.” This reminds me of a story that we all know well but we have yet to read it in the context of Matthew. “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’ And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

And we know the rest; they fell asleep again and again–a little too much Passover wine I suppose but we see this similar situation within the greater context of Matthew. Foreshadowing? Perhaps but because two examples are similar, it doesn’t mean that one prophesized the other. Rather, we are reminded of the greater context.

In this particular parable we see that the bridegroom, a certain synonymous word with Jesus, is being delayed, for some unknown reason. “Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps.”

It is pitch black now in this parable and the need arises for the bridesmaids to fire up their torches, flashlights won’t be invented for almost another 1900 years. But alas, five out of ten forgot to bring their oil. In those days, that would be the equivalent to us not bringing batteries. This sounds silly and simple enough but often times I have put too much emphasis on the oil, not noticing the greater meaning of the parable. It’s like when the disciples forgot to bring bread and Jesus said to them, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” They reasoned among themselves that Jesus was chastising them for forgetting the bread, missing the metaphorical meaning. The forgotten oil is not the focus of the parable.

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. “And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ “But the prudent answered, saying, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

Two towns over, there is an all-night oil shop, for just such an occasion. Maybe this thought has never crossed your mind and I am only making matters worse by bringing it up, but, what dealer sells oil at midnight in first-century Jerusalem? Again, this is not the point of the parable. We have to let the parable play out, seeing what Jesus intended for his disciples to see, specifically, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

“‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’”

All the bridesmaids remembered to bring torches but only five remembered to bring oil, that would be extra oil, based on the context. Notice; “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps… all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’” Oil was not the problem, enough oil was. The foolish five didn’t have enough oil to last through the delay. The context also suggests that if the prudent five gave some of their oil to the foolish five, that eventually, all the lamps would run out of oil. Therefore, the foolish five had to flee the scene to go get more oil. And when they left, wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the bridegroom arrived and invited in the prudent five, but the foolish five had left to purchase more oil.

Why didn’t they just stand there in the dark, getting some light from the torches of the others? Surely there was enough light from the prudent five for the foolish five to follow. We must remember that this is a parable and it’s explanation is, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” We don’t want to be overly literal or focus on things other than the presentation of the parable. That is, this scenario seems stupid, be honest, it does. A midnight wedding where it’s the bridegroom that’s being delayed? Yeah, right! I have been to dozens of weddings as I am sure you have as well. I have even officiated a couple of weddings also and I can tell you one thing about all weddings, it’s always the bride that is delayed! I am going to get in a lot of trouble for that one! I find it funny that I never get in trouble for my lies but for the truth. We also see it silly that the foolish five can’t huddle around the prudent five for light, or the thought of an all-night oil dealer. These are the cross-cultural clutterings and over emphasis on the metaphorical meanings that cloud the context. Nevertheless, notice; “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’”

The foolish five who didn’t bring extra oil left to get more oil, and it appears that there were all-night, oil dealers in relatively close proximity, based on the context (again, that’s not the point). But while they were gone getting that which they should have had, the bridegroom arrived and let in the prudent five but closed the door to the foolish five who had fled the scene. Notice that they fled the scene to do what they thought was right. They had run out of oil, therefore they went to get the oil and there lies the rub. I told you that the oil wasn’t important because now they had their precious oil but return to find the door to the wedding feast closed to them. But how could this be, they were invited and not only invited, they were the servants of the bride? Now that they had purchased the necessary oil, they are being shut out? The oil was for the waiting, not for the feast. The oil has been replaced by the inner sanctuary of the wedding feast and the door has been closed.

“And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ “But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’” Again, how could he not know them, they were part of the wedding party? They were more than invited guests, they were the servants of the bride. Foolish servants who were concerned with the oil, at the wrong time. Look again at the context. “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’”

The bridegroom was all but in their midst, “right at the door.” Yet the foolish five whose lamps were going out, fled from the bridegroom to go get more oil at the most inopportune time–twice foolish. They may have been invited to the wedding feast and may have been the servants of the bride but now they are unknown to the bridegroom because they were not ready. At the first, they didn’t bring enough oil and when the bridegroom was announced, they foolishly fled to get more oil. But apart from the parable and explanation of Jesus, these are merely my words. Jesus summed it up best when he said to his disciples, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

 

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