Matthew 25: 1-13 While speaking to his followers, Jesus said, “When the time comes, the kingdom of heaven will be like this: At a wedding celebration, ten young women were given the job of holding up oil lamps and forming a guard of honour to greet the bridegroom when he arrived at the reception hall. Five of them had their wits about them, but the other five were not the full bottle. These five dim-wits had their lamps alright, but they didn’t bring any spare oil. The five bright-sparks had some extra with them, just in case. The bridegroom was delayed by several hours, and the ten girls all fell asleep in the foyer while they were waiting for him. Finally, on the stroke of midnight, there was a shout, ‘Quick! The bridegroom is has just come round the corner. On your feet and get those lamps waving!’ The ten young women all jumped up and trimmed their lamps, but by that time the five dim-wits were almost out of oil. They turned to the well-prepared women and said, ‘Our lamps are going out. Can you spare us some oil?’ But the well-prepared women replied, ‘Sorry! If we try to make it go around all ten of us, then all the lamps will run out and there’ll be no lights at all. You’ll have to go down to the shops and get some more for yourselves.’ But while the five who had not kept their stocks up ran down to the shops, the bridegroom pulled up, and those who had been ready for him waved their lamps and followed him into the wedding feast. The door was locked behind them, and when the other five returned, they couldn’t get in. They banged on the door and called out, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us.’ But the bridegroom replied, ‘I’m telling you straight, I don’t recognise you.’”
“And so,” Jesus concluded, “Keep yourselves ready, because you have no way of knowing when the time will come.” ©2002 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net
Matthew 25:1-14 (New International Version)
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1″At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6″At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7″Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9″ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10″But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11″Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
12″But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13″Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:1-14 (The Message)
The Story of the Virgins
1″God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. 2Five were silly and five were smart. 3The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. 4The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. 5The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.
6″In the middle of the night someone yelled out, “He’s here! The bridegroom’s here! Go out and greet him!’
7″The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. 8The silly virgins said to the smart ones, “Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’
9″They answered, “There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.’
10″They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.
11″Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, “Master, we’re here. Let us in.’
12″He answered, “Do I know you? I don’t think I know you.’
13″So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.
Mark Pierson’s Rant (Urban Seed: church, Nov.5 2005)
This is a bit of a messy story. Not one I would naturally choose to tell.
That’s why it’s useful following the Lectionary – lectionary = a calendar of different readings from the bible for each Sunday. Follows a 3 year cycle.
Today’s gospel reading in the lectionary is MT25/1-13.
If I wasn’t following the lectionary I might avoid this story!
It has several problems for me.
1. It’s about ‘the kingdom of Heaven’ or ‘God’s Kingdom’ – well what is that?! The story never tells us.
2. It’s about people being excluded – the door is shut and some people are locked out….Messy. It doesn’t sound like good news does it.
Two questions I always want answered when I read any bible stuff
1. What did the words mean when the first people heard them ie in this case, what did Jesus mean by what he said.
2. What does that mean for me today, as someone doing his best to follow Jesus in Melbourne at the end of 2005?
The What? And the So what?
One way to help understand the story is to do what we did last week, and that was look at a few different translations of the same passage.
Well I did that and they didn’t throw any light on anything!
They all use ‘The kingdom of heaven is like….’ Or ‘God’s kingdom is like…’, Without any explanation. And they all tell the story in the same way.
Not very helpful.
And we can’t look at how the story appears in other gospels, because Mark, Luke and John don’t record it, only Matthew does.
So then I looked at what some artists had done with this story, how they had interpreted it in their art. Sometimes this helps. Artists have a unique view on things.
Here’s some of the paintings and sculpture I Iooked at on the internet.
Any insights come to you from those interpretations? Not for me either!
OK Let’s read the text again. (Message)
This story isn’t about virgins. I reckon it’s about people and the choices they make.
Jesus could just as easily have told a story about 10 people who queued up all night to meet the rock band U2 arriving at their hotel after travelling from their Sydney concert.
5 of them didn’t pace themselves, drank too much and had to go off to the toilet, and while they were gone U2 arrived and invited the front runners who had paced their food and drink intake, up to their lounge for private concert.
The others arrived back and found themselves locked out.
Does that fit?
Jesus could have told that story, but he wasn’t a big U2 fan and he knew his audience wouldn’t have any idea what he was talking about.
So he told them a story they would know about – a wedding in the style they did back then.
The problem is that 2000 years later, the story doesn’t mean much to us. We do weddings differently.
But it’s not really a story about virgins, or weddings, or lamps and flat batteries, or falling asleep. It’s not even about high or low intelligence; and it isn’t about not sharing what you have!
It’s a story about choices. Jesus is telling a story about making choices.
Does that sound reasonable to you? Can we agree on that?
I think it’s about making choices that are part of a preparation for something. It’s about being ready. Being prepared.
One bible translator, Eduard Schweizer calls this ‘The Parable of Readiness’. Maybe that starts to help us understand what Jesus was on about?
It certainly gives us a better steer than ‘The Wise and Foolish Virgins’ does!
And these choices that prepare for the future, that look ahead, are called wise choices,
and those that aren’t made with an eye to the future are called foolish. OK?
And somehow these choices affect this thing called the ‘kingdom of heaven’ or the ‘kingdom of God’. Or they influence it. Or something…
31 times Matthew mentions ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Mark, Luke, John almost never do. Luke has a lot of references to ‘the kingdom of God’ though, and Matthew never talks about the Kingdom of God. Which is all also a bit messy.
Especially when The Message translates all or Matthews references to ‘the K of Heaven’ as ‘God’s Kingdom’!!
Pretty much everyone who has ever written about what the bible means by the K of God and the K of Heaven, agrees that they’re the same thing.
Matthew didn’t want to use the word GOD because he was writing for Jews and they were fussy about never speaking the name of God – so Matthew talked about the K of Heaven instead.
Luke and the others (mostly Luke) didn’t have that problem so they talked about the K of God.
What’s a kingdom? A kingdom is where a king rules. The K of God is where God rules; where God is in charge.
MT is talking about a place on earth where God is sovereign; the boss; the king; the ruler.
And that means in the lives of people who let Jesus, God’s agent, be in charge.
So…back to the story.
When God is allowed to be in charge on this earth, that’s like when 10 virgins were waiting for a bridegroom to arrive…. Or 10 fans queued up outside the Hyatt waiting for U2 to arrive and…
I reckon Jesus is saying to those people 2000 years ago – when you follow me, you have to keep making choices. You can’t coast along. You have to be ready. Prepared. If you’re not, you might miss out on something I have for you. Now maybe there’s a future reference to Jesus coming back, or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. The point is be ready. Be prepared. Make the best choices you can. Look further ahead than the now.
So what? Well…I think Jesus would say the same things to us today.
The kingdom of God/heaven is among us, and we are part of it, when we are choosing to follow Jesus, to let Jesus be in charge of our lives and choices…
He’d say, ‘If you’re following me, part of the K of God, the first choice you make to follow me, well that’s just that – the first choice. There’s a whole lot more choices to make, and some of them have consequences, they move you closer to me or further away, so stay alert. Keep working at it.
Well…that was a whole lot more complicated than I had intended it to be. A long way round to a very basic point.
Hang in there with Jesus. Stay in the Kingdom. Keep making the choices that will keep you close to Jesus. It’s possible to make choices that shut us out.
Other stories in the New testament tell us that being shut out isn’t the end, but it is possible to make choices that take us away from Jesus, rather than closer to him. I think that’s what this story is about. As we move into communion, sharing bread and drink that remind us of Jesus’ great love for us, I invite you to reflect on the choices you are making every day, and how they move you toward, or away from being close to Jesus.