by Ian Grant Spong (November 6, 2011)
How prepared are we for Christ’s return? Will he say to us on that day, I know you?
To discover what the parable of the Ten Virgins can tell us about being prepared for Christ’s return and how it relates to God knowing us.
Read the text, the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) and then pick out some discussion points along the way. Discussed will be olive oil, changing the Great Commandments, God knowing us, the idea of orthpraxy, and preparedness.
1. Olive Oil
The Parable of the Ten Virgins is partly about olive oil (Matthew 25:1-13). It was the oil used to light lamps. It was used by Jacob to sanctify a pillar and later used to consecrate priests and kings for office and the tabernacle for holy use. Olive oil was an offering and the fuel for a continual light in the tabernacle and the temple. It was used in the baking of holy bread and the main ingredient in holy anointing oil. Olive oil was used in numerous sacrifices. It was used for the healing of the sick and symbolizes the Holy Spirit. When the five foolish virgins took no oil, they were neglecting some major spiritual ingredients, giving an inferior offering, with no fuel for their Christian light, not living consecrated lives and neglecting to care for the sick.
2. Changing the Great Commandments
Rich Warren changed the Great Commandments into worship and ministry. Which is better, love for God or worship and love for neighbor or ministry? Warren’s changes watered down the original. His substitute wording formed two of five points in a whole discipleship program. John Wesley did the same thing, changing the Great Commandments. Love for God became acts of piety and love for neighbor became acts of mercy. But those substitutes also weaken the original. Piety is not the whole of love for God and mercy is not the whole of love for neighbor. The Church is built on the teachings of Jesus Christ not substitute concepts. Substitutes cheapen God’s way. In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus began a much superior discussion, expanding the Great Commandments. Love for God is greater than piety and begs the question, does God know us?
3. I Know You Not
In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus told the lazy bridesmaids, “I know you not.” Shocking! If Jesus does not know us what can we do? People get to know each other by spending time with each other. Do we make every effort to know God and allow him to know us? What are some ways that we can “buy oil” and allow God to get to know us? When people spend time together, they talk, listen and do things together. Prayer can be a selfish monologue where we just bark requests at God, or it can be a conversation with God. Bible reading can be a conversation with God. Silent meditation can be listening to God. Asking God where he is and accepting an invitation to do things with him is another way of allowing God to get to know us.
4. Orthodoxy without Orthopraxy is Hypocrisy
Can we teach an authentic Christian gospel without living an authentic Christian life? In theological terms must not orthodoxy (right teaching) include orthopraxy (right living)? In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus encouraged us to DO something, to buy oil for our lamps rather than just sit around waiting for a heavenly oil delivery. What does it mean to buy this spiritual oil? Jesus divided what Christians DO (orthopraxy) into two areas: loving God and loving our neighbor. In practice, love for God is incomplete without love for neighbor. Acts of piety like weekly worship and daily prayers are one way to actively love God. Acts of mercy like feeding the poor are one way to actively love our neighbors. Can right teaching and right practice be separated? Jesus told the Pharisees that their orthodoxy without orthopraxy was hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-12).
5. While we Wait
Part of Christianity is a waiting game. We are waiting for Jesus to return. While we wait, what should we be doing? Matthew 25:1-13 begins to address this question. The two imperatives for us in this text are that we should make sure that we have enough oil and that Jesus knows us. What is the oil? The passage does not say and so interpreters have a field day. Some inject the definition from other contexts into this one by saying that oil is the Holy Spirit, but that may not be what this particular context means. Luther believed it pictures faith. Others say that the end of the chapter provides an answer in works of charity, which seems to be more likely. In another similar context the light of Christian life is also good works (Matthew 5:13-16).
6. Prediction or Preparation
Which science is more important in surviving an earthquake, prediction or preparation? If we were able to predict with certainty that an earthquake would come to Los Angeles, California mid afternoon tomorrow, how many lives might be saved? Perhaps a number would evacuate the city, but many would not. On the other hand, if we were able to construct buildings, utilities and distribution methods that could withstand the strongest earthquakes, many more could be saved? Of course we cannot yet predict earthquakes and neither can we predict the day or the hour of Christ’s return. Many false prophets have predicted the date of his return perhaps every generation for the past 2,000 years. Few have admitted their error. They failed to understand the Bible. Many scriptures including Matthew 25:1-13 teach that prediction is fruitless but preparation is vital.
7. Not Left Behind but Left Out
What an offense is the the Parable of the Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13! People are left out of the wedding because they did not have any oil. To make matters worse, the bridegroom even tells the latecomers that he does not know them. Perhaps the offense is there because we don’t understand the intent of the parable. Spiritual preparedness is not something that can be delegated to someone else, just as the empty bridesmaids could not simply borrow oil from another. We can only prepare for ourselves. We cannot even prepare for those we love the most. We can encourage them and set them an example, but they are responsible for their own relationship with Christ, for him knowing them. How many of us are not spiritually prepared but have been thinking we could borrow oil from someone else?
Emergency preparedness is vital if in the case of a real calamity, we are to survive. In earthquake zones it means building structures that are suited. In tornado zones it means either building tornado proof structures or underground household shelters. In hurricane zones it means stronger building codes, evacuation procedures and efficient response teams. In wildfire zones it means evacuation procedures, homes that are fire resistant and/or contain fireproof shelters. We need preparedness for other things as well. Financial preparedness means being ready for health crises, unemployment and old age. Educational preparedness means that we are ready for the needs of the job market so that we can feed our families. In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus also addressed the idea of preparedness. He will return in power and when he does only those who are ready will be welcomed.
9. The Clock is Ticking
In the Parable of the Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) there is a two-fold time problem. On the one hand we don’t know when Jesus will return, but on the other hand the clock is ticking. How do we deal with an expected Jesus while we do not know when he will return? A particular Rabbi was known for saying that we should repent the day before we die. When his students objected that we don’t know when that day would be, he would simply reply, “All the more reasons to repent today, lest you die tomorrow.” How long will we put off necessary spiritual preparations for the kingdom of heaven? How long will we persist in unrepentant sins, hoping to repent later? How long before we act upon the Gospel message by approaching the throne of mercy in heartfelt gratitude?
Are we spiritually prepared for Christ’s return? Are our containers filled with spiritual olive oil? Does God know us? Let’s be prepared, so that on that day he may say to us, I know you.