In another parable this Sunday, Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. In Jesus' time, weddings are community events celebrating a new family. The feasting and dancing might go on for days! If the Kingdom of God is like this, who would not want to be invited?!
We have considered before that the Kingdom of God may be more of a time, rather than a place. This parable seems to have a lot to do with time. Notice the word Jesus begins the parable with:
“Then the kingdom of God will be like this.
When is this “then” he speaks of?
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
It would be a great honour to be chosen as a bridesmaid. The job is an important one: to light the way for the bridegroom. Remember, no electricity guides his way, no Google Maps directs his footsteps! The bridegroom who arrives at midnight needs the bridesmaids to light the way. But not all the bridesmaids take their responsibility seriously.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
The wise bridesmaids take the time to prepare for their task. Before coming to wait for the bridegroom, they make sure that they have oil to fuel their lamp.
As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
Notice the time. In the parables, midnight means a time of unexpected change. Usually people are not awake at midnight. Some change is about to happen, but the time was not expected.
Before we go any further, can we say who the bridegroom is? Do we all agree that he is Jesus, the One who is Light of the world, the One who loves so much? Or God, the Giver of Life, the One who is Love? Let's take some time, then, to imagine the look on the bridegroom’s face as he recognizes the bridesmaids in the light from their lamps! He knows the bridesmaids, and the bridesmaids know him.
What, then, can we say these lamps are, that the bridesmaids carry?
What light do we carry?
In Baptism, God calls us by name, God chooses us, just like the bridegroom chooses the bridesmaids. We receive a candle lit from the huge Paschal candle as a sign of the Risen life of Jesus. Of course, our Baptism candle probably lies in a box somewhere, unlit but no matter, it is only a sign. We know that we carry the light of the Risen Jesus within us. But how does our light guide his way? Why does he need us? What does our light do for the world? Why does God give it to us?
The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’
At first, this just seems mean. Why do the wise bridesmaids not share their oil? We can tell this parable is not about sharing!
The oil fuels the light and keeps it burning. The bridegroom knows the bridesmaids by the light they carry—he recognizes them. Perhaps, then, the oil has a deeply personal quality to make each bridesmaid recognizable to the bridegroom. Knowing, recognizing, personal—the oil must have something to do with relationship.
What could this oil be? What keeps our light burning within us? What fuels our relationship with God?
Prayer, the Word of God, the sacraments—all of these build our relationship with God. They are each, in some way, the gift of time with God.
God gives us all of this and more so that we can keep our light burning brightly. God must desire relationship with us so badly.
We notice, though that we do not have to spend time with God; we do not have to accept the gift. No one forces us. We have to wonder why the 5 foolish bridesmaids choose not to accept the gift of oil. We wonder if they forget who the bridegroom is.
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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’
The foolish bridesmaids have very bad timing! How awful it must be to hear the bridegroom say, ‘I do not know you’! We do not want to hear him say that to us.
Why does he say, ‘I do not know you’? The foolish bridesmaids bought oil. Should he not know them now?
Again, we notice the time. The foolish bridesmaids bring their oil at the last minute. They have not spent any time fueling the flame of their light.
Have they treasured the gift of the light, of their chosen role to light the bridegroom's way?
Have they treasured the gift of the oil? Have they treasured time spent with God?
Can we say we have a good relationship with someone if we spend no time nurturing it?
We must remember that the bridegroom chooses the bridesmaids for this particular task. The bridegroom cannot come if the way is not lit. He needs us. We do not know when the Kingdom will be complete—we do not know when the then of this parable is—but we know that our light is necessary to light the way. It is necessary for the "when" of the Kingdom. To make our light shine brightly, we have to take the time to enter into this relationship with God. And God shows us how. The oil is always available, but we have to take it.