Wise and Foolish Maidens
Pentecost 25 Matthew 25:1-13
Today’s story is a wedding story. We like wedding stories. We like to see the bride and the groom and the happiness of a wedding. We like to see the groomsmen standing up in front of the church, looking so handsome and well tailored. We like to see the bride maids standing up in front of the church, looking so beautiful and dressed so elegantly.
In my stereotypes of gender differences between men and women, I think that women especially like looking at the dresses of the brides maids. The way the bride maids are dressed is a feast for the eyes of my wife. She really enjoys to look at what the women are wearing. And of course, what the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom are wearing.
Jesus liked to tell stories or parables from real life. Jesus never quoted the religious philosophers of the day nor the leading rabbis from the temple in Jerusalem. No, Jesus chose the stuff from everyday life. From the stuff of everyday life, Jesus composed his memorable stories. He told stories about weeds and wheat, grapes and vineyards, fishing and fishermen’s nets, sheep and goats, the lost coin and the lost son. The list of everyday stuff goes on and on.
Weddings were part of every day life and Jesus told parables about weddings. Weddings were familiar territory. Everybody loved weddings and everybody knew how weddings worked.
In every single one of his parables, they were an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And you the audience had to figure out the meaning of that story. You also had to figure out how it applied to your life.
The story for today is a bride and groom story, a wedding story, a marriage story. It is a story about ten women who were waiting for the groom to show up so the wedding party could begin. Five of the ten maidens were prepared to wait for the groom. Five of the ten maidens were not. Five wise women had plenty of olive oil to keep their lamps lit while they waited for the groom. Five foolish women didn’t have enough oil for their lamps and ran out as they waited for the groom.
We remember that old Bible camps song about this story. I’ll sing a line for you. “Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil for my lamp I pray. Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning, burning, keep me burning til the judgment day. Sing Hosanna.”
Then there are modern versions of the same song. I will sing you that one too. “Give me gas for my Ford, keep me truckin. Give me gas for my Ford today. Give me gas for my Ford, keep my truckin keep my trunkin, keep me truckin til the judgment day. Sing Hosanna.” We know that we need to keep moving, keep trucking, until the Judgment Day.
To help us get into the mood for this parable of Jesus, it is fun to see what artists have done with this parable. There are several good paintings of this parable. Take a look at the screen and let’s figure out the paintings of the parable.
The first painting is Chinese and has a Chinese feel.
HE QU, Chinese
As you look at this painting, what do you see? Pause and examine the painting in light of the gospel lesson which was read for you today.
I have had the opportunity to study this painting and the other paintings. I will help your eyes see what they need to see.
Notice that all the people in the painting are women. All have hats on their heads. All wear ear rings. All have rouge on their cheeks. In other words, they are all dressed up.
You see sliver of the crescent moon, indicating that it is night. The background is black as if it were night.
Importantly, if you count, you can see ten figures of women. Five of the women have head that are erect and are looking around, as if they were waiting for someone. Five of the women are looking down at the ground, not looking around as the other five women are.
The five women looking around have lamps in their hands. The five women looking down have free hands which are doing nothing. .
This Chinese artist has done a fine job in painting this parable of Jesus.
What do you see in the next painting?
This is an African painting. Again, you see the ten women. Again, you see that the women are dressed for a gala occasion, like for a wedding. These women are gussied up for a party. Again you see it is night. Again, if you look carefully, you can see that five women have lanterns that are lit and five women have lanterns that have gone out. Five were prepared for the party that was going to happen as soon as the groom arrived. In the background, middle right, you can see the wedding party of groomsmen approaching in the distance.
Again, the artist has done a superb job of capturing the essence of Jesus’ parable.
The next artist is English. We see ten English women. Look carefully. What do you see?
WILLIAM BLAKE, English
Look carefully at the painting. On the left are five women, each holding a lighted lantern in their hands. The lantern is about the height of their knees. You can see the flames in the lamps. Look at the five women on the right. They are in agony. They are miserable, in anguish, wailing at the other women who are standing. Notice that the women kneeling in the lower center of the painting and how her lamp is out and on the ground. One woman at the right is crying with her face in her hands.
Again, this is a superb painting which captures the essence of Jesus’ parable.
Let us examine the last painting. What do you see? Take a moment and focus and make your own observations, knowing that it is a painting of Jesus’ parable.
This painting also captures the essence of Jesus’ story. The women, elegantly dressed, are outside a door, begging to get in. The door has been shut and they are upset that they are outside of the door. Notice the woman dressed in red finally has a lamp that is lit. She had gone to the market and gotten oil and lit her lamp but the bridegroom had already arrived and gone into the party with his friends. She was too late.
Wow. What incredible paintings.
Now, let’s take a moment and look more carefully at the parable itself. Would you find your bulletin insert and also find a pen or pencil to make up the parable.
-Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Underline the phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” This parable is only from Matthew. There is no parallel in Luke nor in Mark.
Matthew always begins his parables with a stock phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” is like this.
The kingdom of heaven is the most important teaching from the lips of Jesus. There parables about the kingdom, teachings about the kingdom, miracles that are signs of the kingdom. In Matthew’s gospel, the “kingdom of heaven” is mentioned forty-one times. The phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” is referred to 108 times in the New Testament.
Under the phase, “the kingdom of heaven,” write: “This is the number one teaching of Jesus.” Also write, “the rule of God.” When God rules, it will be like this. The kingdom is also the reign of God. The kingdom is whenever and wherever God rules in the life of a person, a family, a school, a nation. It is what happens when God rules your life, your marriage, your family, your tribe, your nation, and mine.
-Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Circle several important words like “ten,” “bridesmaids,” “lamps” and “bridegroom.” Once again, Jesus took his parable from everyday, common life. Jews went to weddings often. Weddings were common. The lamps were olive oil lamps.
In this story, Jesus = the bridegroom. The followers of Christ can be divided into two camps: five foolish = five foolish followers. Five wise = five faithful followers of Christ. The wedding feast = heaven.
This parable is more like an allegory than a parable that only has one primary point. There is much symbolism in this parable. It functions more like an allegory.
-Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Circle the words, “wise and foolish.” “Wise and foolish” is a theme that we have heard before in Matthew. Foolish were the people who built their house upon the sand and wise were the people who built their house upon the rock. Those who built their house on the rock in Matthew 7 were those who heard the word of God AND did it. Those who built their house of the sand were those who heard the word of God but did NOT do it.
-When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Jesus was using everyday logic. You need to bring oil for your lamps in case they run out of oil.
Today, it is foolish not to have sufficient gas in your tank of your car and run out of gas on some remote highway.
Note that the wise people took flasks of oil with them for their lamps. Similarly, wise people today often carry an extra five gallon plastic can of gasoline in their boats. If you run out, you have some gasoline in reserve.
The five wise maidens were prepared for waiting for the bridegroom to come.
-As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. Circle the word, “delayed.” This is the second time in the gospel stories that we have confronted this word. We can hear the rumors buzzing in the early church: “The Second Coming of Christ has been delayed. How are we to interpret that?” Many Christians had become drowsy and began to fall asleep. They had secretly assumed that Jesus Christ was not coming back, that maybe their new religion was all a hoax, and so some of these first Christians became “lax” in their living out of their faith.
Near the word, “bridegroom,” write the word, “Christ.” Near the word, “delayed,” write the word, “the Second Coming.” Near the words, “drowsy and sleep,” write the words, “Many first believers.”
Several of Jesus’ other parables during this section of his life say, “Stay awake. Don’t fall asleep. Watch. Be alert.” These women fell asleep.
-But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Suddenly, expectedly but unexpectedly, the bridegroom, whom everyone has been waiting for, finally arrives. What good news. What great news. The party is on.
Circle the word, “midnight.” The bridegroom comes late at night, at midnight, when no one was expecting him. So will it be with the Second Coming of Christ. He will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.
In this parable, it is a thief who comes in the night but the bridegroom who comes at midnight.
-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.” The foolish bridesmaids were running low on fuel. They needed oil for their lamps. We remember the old camp song, “Give me oil for my lamps keep me burning. Give me oil for my lamp, I pray. Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, keep my burning til the judgment day.”
-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.” The wise were smart enough to realize that they would not have enough oil if they give some of their oil to the five foolish maidens. They advised the foolish ones to go to the oil dealers and buy olive oil for their lamps.
This parable is still spiritually true. That is, after all these centuries, people are still running out of “oil” and having to go to dealers and buy some more. They fall asleep. They get lethargic. And they miss the party. They miss the miracle. They miss the bridegroom coming.
-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. “Oh, oh, the bridegroom came and went into the wedding banquet and shut the door. Oh, oh, what does that mean? Is the door to heaven closed for some people? Is that what it means?” Yes, that is what it means.
Near the words, “wedding banquet,” write the words “means heaven.”
Underline the words, “the door was shut.” Write the words, “the door to heaven was shut to the five foolish bride maids.” These five foolish brides maids fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom to come, waiting for Christ to come again.
-Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” The five foolish ones wanted to get into the wedding banquet/heavenly party and begged to be admitted. That is what the last painting was all about.
-But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Circle the word, “he,” and write in “Jesus, the bride groom.” These words are harsh but are Biblical. That is, throughout the Scriptures, Jesus has repeatedly taught us about the Son of man and the coming Judgment Day. On that Judgment Day, not everybody is going to get into the door. On that Judgment Day, not everyone is going to get into the heavenly party. That knowledge is always a surprise for some permissive and lenient people who believe that God’s grace should overwhelm his final judgment.
But earlier in the teachings of Jesus, we persistently heard about this divine wrath and punishment of God. We recall in Mathew’s gospel, this theme of judgment in the teachings of Jesus was very clear.
We also have learned from the teachings that we human beings are never to judge who “gets in and who is left out.” That is the role of Christ. Christ is to be the judge. Using the analogy from baseball, the umpire makes the calls and the players do not. The role of the Son of man is to be the judge. That is his role. This is his function. We human beings are the players and not the judges. We are NEVER the judges as to who gets in the door or who is left outside the door.
In Matthew’s gospel, we have heard similar stories. About the final separation of the sheep from the goats, the final separation of the good fish from the bad in the fishing net. There are numerous final judgment stories and final separation stories on the lips of Jesus.
All these other Bible verses in Matthew are consistent with Jesus’ other teachings about the final separation. The five brides maids who were not prepared? The door was shut to them. There will be a final separation, a final division, a final severance.
-Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. This is the warning: we are to be alert at all times for our salvation.
Underline “you know neither the day nor the hour.” Write above that “of the Second Coming.” No one knows, even those who sell extremely popular books that attempt to guesstimate the time of the Second Coming which is always very near.
Thus ends our Bible study for today.
What does this story mean for our lives. We are always to live our lives with the readiness that we will meet the Lord God face to face tonight. The midnight hour for you or me may tonight at midnight. We are always to be prepared to meet our God face to face. We never know when that moment may be. And what that moment arrives, it will be like the party of all parties when Christ arrives for the greatest of all wedding festivals.
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