I know a thing or two about weddings. I’ve had the pleasure of marrying probably a hundred couples now. And I’ve learned this about weddings. They’re always late. They never start on time. Once a wedding started only 5 minutes after it was supposed to. That’s been the closest to start time so far.
I love that Jesus uses a wedding as the context for this parable. I’m sure he went to his share of weddings. We probably all have. I’ve certainly been to my share of mine.
It’s so interesting that Jesus uses experiences from everyday to teach. He rarely talks about Scripture. Instead he talks about farming and families and relationships and even weddings. Stuff people know about.
I think he’s trying to tell us that the divine isn’t strange or foreign to us. God is all around us. Constantly. Even in the things we think God has nothing to do with.
He was dependent upon them to light the way for him. He didn’t have a lamp of his own. If the bridesmaids didn’t keep their lamps lit, everyone was in serious trouble. The wedding would be even later, if at all.
And the astonishing thing is that Jesus says, “This is what the kingdom of heaven, or God’s reign, is like.”
Huh? What? What on earth do bridesmaids running out of oil for their lamp stands and the spiritual life have in common?
And what about those supposedly wise bridesmaids—the ones who have plenty of oil, the ones who won’t share it with those who are running low—who are they. Because I want to steer clear of them. Jesus calls them wise, but they sound a little mean to me.
Let’s unpack this parable a little bit to see what’s really going on here. What Jesus is trying to teach us. Who’s who in this parable?
These 10 bridesmaids are Jesus followers. He’s the bridegroom who arrives a little later than everyone expected.
When the gospel of Matthew was written, some Christians were giving up. They were losing hope.
These are the 5 who run out of oil. They don’t have enough oil to keep their lamps lit. 5 however, have enough oil. They are able to accompany Jesus when he finally arrives.
Oil is spiritual energy. It’s spiritual power. It’s what allows us to create and shine light in times of darkness.
Remember what Jesus said, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is telling his followers not to lose hope or give up even though it appears that he’s running late. Or maybe not showing up at all.
Even though it looks like he might be a run away bridegroom, he says, keep your lamp stands lit. Make sure you continue cultivating your spiritual power, and doing good works, even though I appear to be running late.
Don’t give up, he tells us. No matter what. Even though it looks like I’m running late. Don’t give up. Let your light shine. I’ll be there.
This parable is about fueling up. Making sure we’re ready for a long journey. Not running out of spiritual energy.
Now if you’re like me, you’re thinking, “What about those 5 bridesmaids who have enough oil, yet refuse to share with the 5 who run out of oil?” How mean are they? They send the other 5 away and say, “You have to get your own oil. You can’t have any of ours.” Yikes! Are they even people of faith? Why don’t they share?
Let me tell you a secret. You can’t share spiritual energy. You can’t give someone your spirituality. You can share lots of things. You can share a cup of coffee. Or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or even a car. But you can’t share your spiritual energy with anyone else. You can’t give someone else your joy or compassion or freedom to anyone else. Any more than you can give them your eyesight or worldview or sense of humor.
They are all uniquely us. Every person has to cultivate their own spiritual life. You can’t get it from someone else. When times get tough, when we’re going through a time of loss and grief, no one can give you the peace that passes understanding to get you through it.
When you’re dealing with chronic or a life-threatening illness, no one can give you the confidence that nothing, not even this, can separate you from the love of God.
We’ll all face circumstances that will make us want to give up. To let our lights go out. If we don’t have a deep well of spiritual oil to draw from, our lamp stand might go out.
We have to resist that temptation. We have to continue developing our spirituality every single day. Because we don’t know when we’re going to enter a time of trial and need to draw from it.