Jesus told a story of ten virgins, and immediately the modern listener may be distracted. When do we use the word virgin these days, except in the name of some company owned by Sir Richard Branson? Maybe we could hear the story better if we substitute another word. Jesus told a story about five wise and five foolish bridesmaids (see Matthew 25:1-13).
After thirty years of performing wedding ceremonies, I’ve witnessed many wedding parties. I’ve seen bridesmaids bring in so much stuff into the church building that one might suppose they planned to camp out for a week: food, water, soft drinks, clothes, make-up, hair dryers, irons, and ironing boards and who knows what else. They seem intent on being prepared for anything just like the scouts, because this is a special day. Only one time in three decades have I had a bridesmaid ask me for a safety pin, and then she was extremely apologetic because she had meant to bring some.
The first century, Jewish wedding ceremony was usually at the bride’s home. The general time of the wedding was known, but the exact time of the bridegroom’s arrival would be unknown. Following the ceremony, the wedding party would go in procession to the groom’s home for the wedding banquet. The bridesmaids would need their lamps (possibly wedding torches) for the nighttime processional to the wedding banquet.
I’ve told illustrations in sermons only to have someone come out, shake my hand, and tell me exactly the wrong point from the story. Jesus’ parable can suffer in the same way. I’ve been in many Bible classes where someone will ask, “Why couldn’t the virgins share?” The simple answer is that is not the point of this particular story. From a practical point of view, some have suggested that the wedding torch had a very short burn time before it needed more oil. In other words, there just wouldn’t have been enough oil to share. An attempt to share would have left the wedding party in the dark at some point along the trip to the wedding banquet and spoiled things for the bridge and groom. After all, we are always anxious for all the details to go just right at weddings, better five torches than no torches.
Five wise bridesmaids are prepared for the wedding. Five foolish bridesmaids are shockingly unprepared, and while they go to make themselves ready, they miss the wedding, are late for the reception, and find themselves permanently shut out. The story is about preparation for a special day The story is about the individual preparation that only each one of us can do for that special day of the Lord’s return. We do not know the day or the hour. Are you ready?