The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).
Who wants to talk about virgins?
There are few questions that make us as uncomfortable as quickly as does that one.
Nevertheless, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”
And not only are we uncomfortable talking about virgins, virginity, chastity, and self-denial, we’re uncomfortable using that language to describe the Church—Christianity in general and us Christians specifically.
Chastity is, to us, a name of ill-repute.
It should be—and is—a virtue—not a joke.
But the parable of the ten virgins is largely ignored.
It’s no one’s favorite, and when it comes up in the lectionary, pastors often preach on the Old Testament lesson or the Epistle.
It’s not even about virginity, and it makes us uncomfortable—which is exactly why Jesus says that, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (Matthew 25:1-2).
Jesus needs to unseat us from our comfortable silence, our blissful ignorance.
In opening the kingdom of God to us, by means of a parable, Jesus compares the Church to ten virgins—five wise and five foolish.
Foolishly—we’re uncomfortable with this.
And so we show, already, before a single word of explanation, which group of five we often belong to.
As we seek to understand this parable, we’ll recognize in the moronic virgins our great and many sins.
And, as we seek to understand this parable, we’ll also recognize in the wise virgins, the fact that, in the Church, there’s no such thing as a crisis.
Wouldn’t that be something—no such thing as a crisis.
When was your last crisis?
Most people have an answer, but in the Church, wisdom and oil—faith—prepares you for whatever comes.
“When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them” (Matthew 25:3).
Without oil, they’re woefully unprepared for anything that’s not exactly what they expect.
Maybe you’re a pessimist, expecting sickness before, during, and after the holidays.
Maybe you’re an optimist, expecting your family to get along this year.
Maybe you’re a realist, and have planned, already, your escape route and which friend will call you with an “emergency.”
Regardless, “the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, He knows that they are futile” (cf. Psalm 94:11).
Not a single one of us can plan so perfectly as to negate the possibility of a crisis.
The pessimist’s day can always get worse. He would agree.
The optimist hopes for the best, but his hope is not a certainty but a wish that he maintains.
The realist may seem unaffected, but he, too, has a bottom to hit. He’s not there yet, but when he is, he’ll tell you.
The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins. Five wise and five foolish. The foolish virgins take no oil with them. But they still look the part.
Dressed the way virgins dress, speaking the way virgins speak, walking the way virgins walk—they’ve been baptized, catechized, and confirmed in the Church.
They’ve been hatched and matched in the Church.
And yet they lack saving faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.
The oil is the faith, hope, and love given by God in the proclamation of the Word.
The oil is the faith, hope, and love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7).
The oil is that which enables you to live in the Lord and that which prepares you to die in the Lord.
That you may be dispatched from the Church to the Lord.
Oil, faith, prepares the Christian for all the unexpected trials and tribulations, tests and temptations, that come our way. It doesn’t make it easy—but it does make you prepared.
Because the Bridegroom is delayed.
We’re drowsy, and we sometimes sleep. We drop our guard. We don’t rule over all temptations, and we sin.
The ten virgins all appear the same. They’re in the Church. All ten fall asleep. The Church is filled only with sinners.
Some are prepared. Some are wise.
And some are not.
“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out’” (Matthew 25:6-8).
With oil, a lighted lamp lights the way—you will not dash your foot against a stone (cf. Psalm 91:12).
Wise Christians know no such thing as crisis, because faith prepares them to endure all things.
Christians know crosses, and they bear them. In sadness, in misery, and in patience, and faith.
Without oil, there is no light in you. And “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Matthew 6:23).
Foolish Christians are unprepared. They know not rest but crisis. A crisis for every day and every day a crisis.
“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out,” they say.
But the oil of faith is not a commodity for which you trade. It’s not stocked on the shelves for you to buy.
If it is not given—you don’t have it.
“The wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves’” (Matthew 25:9).
They don’t say this because it’s possible.
The cry went up at midnight. The dealers aren’t there. There is no 24-hour Walmart in Jesus’ parable.
The foolish virgins weren’t prepared.
To them, when they try to enter the feast, they will call out, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But the Lord will answer: “I do not know you” (cf. Matthew 25:11-12).
The unwise virgins in the Church look the part but lack faith. They attend and receive but do not hear and believe. They cover their own shame and display the shame of their neighbor. Out of the same mouth flows blessing and curse. With these, there’s love of money, not God. Love of self, not neighbor.
To them, the door is shut.
For them, it’s too late.
Because they lacked oil.
They weren’t prepared.
They were in the Church but not of the Church.
And when their final crisis comes, they won’t be ready.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
That last part Jesus says to us all—to foolish virgins and to wise—to all the Church.
Faith sets a watch, waiting patiently for the Lord.
But even the faithful become drowsy and sleep. Our attention is at least occasionally turned to the cares and worries of this life. But faith reminds us of and directs us to the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.
We’re prepared for whatever comes.
We have a hope, a certainty, a promise, and a God who lives and reigns to eternity.
Confident and trusting—with a certain hope—we know that when trials and tribulations, tests and temptations come our way, God will sustain us, to the end, that by His grace we may come to everlasting life.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Watch. Listen. Hear. Behold.
The Bridegroom comes—to live, to die, to rise.
To save all who believe in Him.
Watch. Listen. Hear. And behold.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will know no such thing as a crisis.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt