Pentecost 22 – St. Matthew 25:1-13
This parable is to put it kindly: rather bizarre.
Why are these virgins so early? Why is the bridegroom so late in coming? What is the significance of the lamps and the oil? Was there really even a need to bring lamps and oil? How much oil was considered ordinary to carry around, especially when most would consider it to be completely unnecessary?
Those are just some of the oddities of this parable. We are looking for what might stick out so we can say ‘Aha! This is what Jesus wants me to see and do and believe’; and to be honest, there is nothing here that does so.
Which makes this bizarre parable downright terrifying.
Because these ten virgins show up, and they look alike, and there is nothing unusual about them at all. To the observer, to the one standing at the gate, they are 10 faithful virgins, who have come to celebrate with the bridegroom, and no one says anything contrary to the fact. No one even thinks to say that the five might want to get some more oil, just in case.
And scariest of all, if the bridegroom had arrived on time, these 5 virgins would presumably not have been locked out, but instead they would be inside celebrating.
That is scary stuff, because when you look at this parable, the bridegroom is Christ, and He is the one who is now delayed in coming; and we are those who are anticipating His coming.
In the parable five virgins are wise, and five are foolish; so if we are those waiting for the bridegroom; if we are the virgins; are we wise or are we foolish?
When Christ returns will we be found lacking so that we must go and try to find that which is missing? Or will we be found to have extra?
And that is the next problem; in the parable, it is oil that is lacking; but what might we be lacking? Faith? Good works? And how much is enough?
Now this would ordinarily not be a big deal, except when we get to the end of the parable, the 5 who were lacking, whatever it was they were lacking, are not allowed into the wedding hall. If you are lacking, that means there is no heaven for you; and you will be met with the most terrifying words of all, spoken by God Himself: ‘I do not know you’.
Certainly not words that we or anyone else would ever want to hear; and yet, in this parable, the words are spoken; and they are spoken to 5 who are in no way distinguishable from 5 others who are already inside. Could they also be spoken to you, and not the one across from you, or in front of you, or behind you, or even next to you?
For there is far more that distinguishes these virgins than the amount of oil that is in their lamps; for as it turns out that not having sufficient oil hardly makes one a fool, just as having extra does not make you wise either.
But what does make a fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no God.
For this parable is about what is in your heart; and what is your heart filled with.
For this parable speaks to what so many of us point to on a regular basis: only God knows the contents of the heart of an individual. And while many take that to mean that a greater number will be saved, today, the reality is that God knows the heart and perhaps not that many will be saved; perhaps only half.
The virgins in this parable look exactly alike, they have all come to receive the gifts that God has promised to pour out on His people. And yet, not all will get those gifts, for not all confess with the heart that Jesus is Lord.
Consider the surprise. All these virgins made the same confession; they heard the same words spoken; they sang the hymns and prayed the prayers. They all showed up at the appointed place, at the appointed time. Yet five are not known by God.
Scary thought; that someone could come and receive the Lord’s Supper and not be known by God. That someone could pray and hear the Word spoken on a regular basis, and not be known by God. They do the same actions and say the same words you do; and yet, they are not known by God.
Make no mistake, this is not God chooses some and not others here; this is God chooses ALL those who believe with the heart that Jesus is Lord, and rejects ALL those who deny that Jesus is Lord.
To the outsider, and even to the one sitting next to you, there is no way to tell the difference. The virgins all looked the same and no one said anything about some getting more oil or why some had extra oil. They all looked the same; and yet, five were foolish; five said in their hearts that there is no God. Five confessed with the mouth and believed with the heart that Jesus is Lord.
Only God knows the heart; and yes, some may be in heaven that you do not expect; but some you expect may not be there either.
The good news, the comfort in this parable of horrors, is that Christ Jesus has indeed died for your sins, and rose for your salvation. To those who believe with the heart that Jesus is Lord, there is no doubt, there is no concern, there is no second guessing; salvation is assured; eternal life is promised; you will receive that which has been promised to you.
For God knows His people, from before He formed you in the womb, until the day that you take your final breath, God knows those who confess His name and believe.
Examine yourself before the Day of the Lord. To know the day and the time and the place is not enough. You must know with the heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Inwardly digest the Word, that you may know God’s promises to you. Hunger and thirst for the body and blood of Christ so that you might have the assurance of Christ Jesus for you. Make the sign of the cross daily in remembrance of the Name of God that has been placed upon you in Holy Baptism. Confess your sins and receive the absolution. Sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs as you praise and worship God. Call upon the name of the Lord in every time of need and in every time of thanksgiving.
The fool says in his heart that there is no God; and yet the wisdom of God is wiser than men; for God knows the hearts and minds of all people.
This parable need not scare us. This parable need not puzzle us. This parable is actually quite simple, and in that simplicity, it is quite comforting as well.
To you who believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be welcomed into the great wedding hall to enjoy the feast of eternal life.
Do not worry about oil and lamps; instead take comfort in the body and blood of Christ.
Do not worry about the day and the hour; instead pray that Christ would come, and that He would come quickly.
Do not worry about the fool who God does not know; simply trust your Baptism, for God knows your name.
That is what Jesus desires you do; that is the purpose of this parable. Be ready for the day of the Lord; for it is coming and it is coming quickly. And when it comes there will no longer be time to change the heart.
To be ready is to be wise, nothing more.