I think it’s impossible to be a compassionate human being and not wonder why the wise virgins offer no real help to the foolish.
Why don’t they share?
Why don’t they share their oil with those who were ill-prepared? Why not see to it that they enter into the joyous feast together?
If this parable were about the golden rule, that would be a great question, but this parable’s not about the golden rule.
Today’s Gospel lesson occurs in a section of Matthew that begins: “But concerning [the Day of the Lord, the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, concerning that day and hour] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
After that, five parables follow, including today’s Gospel lesson, each dealing with being prepared for that Day.
In all five parables, something or someone arrives suddenly, creating a panic.
In three of the five, a key figure is delayed.
In four of the five, we’re exhorted specifically to watch and be ready.
In four of the five, the characters are divided into wise, faithful, and good or wicked, foolish, and hesitant.
The last three show us a scene of judgment where the faithful receive a joyous reward while the unfaithful receive ruthless punishment and banishment.
These parables aren’t about the golden rule and how you treat others.
They’re about the kingdom of God and how—or by what means—salvation comes to you.
The question is, then, why were the foolish virgins unprepared, and—for us today—are you prepared?
What does it take to be prepared for the end?
What makes the foolish virgins foolish?
What made the wise wise? And what’s the difference?
Well, we have to start with what they have in common.
That it’s two groups of virgins, this isn’t a comparison between churched and unchurched. Rather, it’s a comparison between the members of the visible Church.
The wise and foolish virgins is a picture of the Church on any given Sunday.
They all have lamps, that is, they all have the Word of God. So—for us—it’s like they have Bibles, the Small Catechism, and a Lutheran hymnal.
I say Lutheran hymnal because Methodist hymnals don’t teach what Lutherans believe.
The Word of the Lord is a lamp to the Christian’s feet and a light for his path (cf. Psalm 119:105), and Jesus says in Matthew chapter five, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Both wise and foolish have the Word.
They even have good-looking works.
That’s not the difference between them.
Nor is the difference something like Confirmation. Every confirmed Lutheran can say that they were confirmed, obviously. But can every confirmed Lutheran say that they’ve remained in the faith that they were taught?
Have you nurtured it, picking up stones and pruning out thorns?
The difference between wise and foolish isn’t confirmation, or an old German bible, or a Small Catechism with your name printed on it.
What an obvious thing to say, though, right?
No one thinks that’s what makes you wise, merely possessing the Word.
But how many Christians read their bible to their children daily—or gladly, to have in mind the Third Commandment?
And let’s hear that in the past tense, too.
How many heads of house heed the words of the catechism, teaching it simply to their household?
You’re right, of course, to think it the pastor’s responsibility to teach the faith. But you’re wrong if you think that implies parents shouldn’t, can’t, or don’t.
The difference between wise and foolish isn’t in the outer observances of the Word: going to Church, opening a bible, being Baptized, receiving the Sacrament, or helping your neighbor.
The difference is: the foolish look to humanity for their salvation, and the wise look to Christ, the Bridegroom.
For salvation, the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit, the oil of faith, that fears, loves, and trusts Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our life and faith.
Fools look to human reason and trust in the merit of man. When an unbeliever dies, you’ll hear he was a good person, and you’ll be encouraged to donate to the Humane Society—as he did.
But you’ll hear nothing of Jesus.
Or—maybe he followed Jesus with what he said.
Or maybe he followed Jesus with what he did.
But with an unbeliever, it’s never both.
The will of the Father is as foreign to them as the explanation of the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
Possessing the Word isn’t what distinguishes wise from foolish—but faith.
The object of their faith.
What their faith clings to.
Because the wise look to Christ, as faith always does.
The wise trust Him to look upon them as a groom does his bride, caring for her—not her beauty or wealth, God sees not as man sees. He cares for her—not the defects the world would make you aware of—just her.
That’s how Christ looks at you.
He doesn’t want your beauty or your wealth, those fleeting things. He doesn’t care to hear about your defects from the world.
What are those anyway, when they’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Faith that believes God has forgiven your sins in Christ is the oil that separates wise from foolish.
It’s not a lack of sin.
Both fall asleep.
So then, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) since we belong to the day.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Faith that believes this is the oil that prepares you for the Bridegroom’s return.
The difference between wise and foolish is faith.
Both appear to have good works, but that which does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:3).
The faith of the wise trust Jesus.
The faith of the foolish trust in themselves.
The foolish ask the wise for oil—not God.
They’ve never asked God for anything.
They’ve never expected God to help.
They don’t look to Him in faith, so, doubting all, they look to man.
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, the rich man, in hades, asks Abraham to send Lazarus for aid.
He never asked God for anything.
So why start now?
When we regard Jesus as Lord only, that’s not enough. There’s no consolation, no redemption, if all Jesus is is Lord.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
If God is only “awesome,” that’s not enough.
If God only “walks with you,” that’s not enough.
What separates foolish from wise is faith that trusts Jesus to look at you as a groom does his bride.
The foolish have no oil, no faith.
When trouble comes, they don’t know God as merciful. They don’t know the things that make for peace. They don’t know how to seek righteousness, because they don’t know where righteousness is preached, proclaimed, poured out, and given and shed.
But the wise—the wise acknowledge sin and repent of it. They trust God, who forgives, to also forget, to remember the sin no more, since it’s washed in the blood of the Lamb.
You know the things that make for peace, because you know where God is.
You know that He fights for you.
The wise call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. They look for mercy, they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
They ask. They knock.
And to all the wise—to you—God opens the door to the feast, calls you in, rejoices in you—who you are in Christ.
He loves you, because He knows you as His own.
And then He shuts the door.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt