By Robert Mayes
It’s always weird hearing the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew 25:1-12. That’s because our world has made virginity a cruel joke. It’s not unusual for young people to be uncomfortable when the topic of virginity comes up at school, especially in a locker room. It’s seen as shameful to admit that you’re a virgin. So when Jesus teaches this parable about 10 virgins, maybe you squirm a little and try to not think about it too much.
Dear friends, consider that God’s way is the only good way, while the world’s way never is. The world’s way is like a worm on a fishhook. The appeal it has carries the sting of death with it. God’s way of preserving yourself in sexual purity before marriage is surely not popular today. But it is good. It protects you so you can be truly happy, fulfilled, and confident.
But let’s get on to the parable. . .
There are 10 virgins waiting for the groom to show up at the wedding. It seems like 1st-century weddings began with a procession of the bridegroom and friends with lights. It might be similar to a modern-day wedding party, only more extravagant, for the grand entrance into the wedding was lit with joyous light into that wedding hall. Since it was late, the virgins slept. Finally, the watchmen called out that the bridegroom was near. The 10 virgins got up and started to make last-minute adjustments so they could join the bridegroom. Half had enough oil for their lamps, and the other half did not. Those who had enough also couldn’t share their oil, because there wouldn’t be enough oil for anyone if they did. When the foolish virgins went out to look for a merchant who might happen to be working the graveyard shift and who would hopefully have oil to sell, the bridegroom came. The five wise virgins were able to join him in the procession to the wedding.The door was shut and locked. When the five foolish virgins came back, they weren’t let in. Their invitation was revoked.
Details matter in Jesus’ parables
See the parable of the sower for an example (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23). More than just adding extra “filler” material, or showing how storytellers can embellish their words and capture an audience by using vivid details, Jesus actually teaches the Kingdom of God by these words. All the parts of a parable relate in some way to Jesus’ salvation. In this case, the parable revolves around believers being ready through faith in Christ when Jesus finally returns again on the Last Day.
Jesus is the Heavenly Bridegroom. His delay is the time after the ascension until judgment. His coming is announced by pastors, who have been set like watchmen over the gates of Israel like the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:17; 33:7).The wedding is heaven.
Who are the players?
The virgins are the believers on earth, who wait for Jesus to return. All 10 of the virgins–the wise and the foolish–are faithful believers! This parable is not about the division between the faithful and hypocrites (which does exist, but it’s just not taught here).Two facts show that all 10 of these virgins are believers. First, all are virgins.Jesus has made His Church pure by His baptismal washing and through faith in Him. He has not made hypocrites pure.Those who reject the Word and teaching, even if they are members of a church, are not pure in any way. Titus 1:15 reminds us: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”The fact that they are virgins indicates their purity, which shows that they are not defiled and unbelieving. And hence, not hypocritical.
Secondly, all the virgins have lamps and at least some oil. For in verse 8, the foolish say, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” In order for lamps to “go out,” there had to have been some oil in them to be lit for a little while. Otherwise, the lamps of the foolish wouldn’t have been able to be lit at all. So they had to have had some oil. Just not enough. The foolish took no “flasks” to carry extra oil in, and the wise did. Therefore, the foolish left to find merchants to get more oil. The merchants also stand for pastors, who give out God’s grace. Pastors “sell” God’s grace in the same way that Isaiah 55:1 speaks of–freely, without cost– “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
What does this mean?
All this suggests that this parable is about the difference between some believers who are prepared for Jesus’ coming through faith in Christ, and others who believe now but whose faith is dying out. The lamp, therefore, refers to the believers’ hearts. According to 2 Corinthians 4:7, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” First century oil lamps were made of pottery. They were “earthen vessels,” in other words. And we have the treasure of the Gospel in our heart, through faith in Christ. The oil is God’s gracious favor for you. That’s why the virgins cannot share their oil. It’s only the favor God has for them, the others have to believe it for themselves! The flasks, therefore, are the means of grace, the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. For the means of grace carry God’s grace to you, just as the lamps carry the extra oil. The means of grace feed the flame which refers to faith.
Who are the foolish virgins?
Those who began in the faith, who may have been confirmed, but who fell away from receiving the preaching and the Sacrament of the Altar. Other things became more important for them than being ready for Jesus’ coming. But since faith cannot live where one ignores the means of grace, so the faith of those who are like the foolish virgins will die out because God’s Word and Sacrament are not feeding it. Is your faith lit now, but dying out? Then repent and reprioritize. You don’t want to be left out when the Bridegroom comes!
Who are the wise then?
Who are the wise then? They are believers who continue to gather around the means of grace because they know how desperately they need it. Not only do they have the flame of faith now. They also have the flasks of the means of grace that carry the oil of God’s forgiveness and salvation.Therefore, their faith is fed now and continues to be fed. If you are one of these, blessed are you! You are well-prepared for the Heavenly Bridegroom as you continue in faith, hearing His Word and receive His Sacrament. Come, Lord, quickly! Amen.
Rev. Robert Mayes is the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church and Zion St. John Lutheran Church, in Beemer and Wisner, NE.