We’ve all done it (or at least I hope I’m not alone) – showed up to a wedding with a blank card, wrote frantically in the church pew, stuck in some crumpled cash, and hoped the other guests didn’t notice. I always have good intentions and usually show up with a long hand-written card and a personalized gift (or just non-crumpled cash…). Sometimes life just happens and good intentions slip through the cracks.
In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13), five of the bridesmaids are labeled as foolish, and five are labeled as wise. Who’s who? All of the bridesmaids were greatly anticipating the wedding celebration. All were wearing the proper attire. All showed up early with lamps and oil, ready to light the path for the couple and the rest of the wedding party as they made their way to the feast. All even took a harmless nap while the arrival of the procession was delayed.
The bridegroom was finally approaching in the distance, and the ten were stirred awake with excitement. The time had come to light the path for the procession, but only half of the women had enough oil to relight their lamps. Now we see what distinguishes the bridesmaids: the foolish brought just enough for if things had timed out as expected, and the wise brought more than enough. As the foolish searched for more oil, they were locked out of the feast for good.
In this parable the stakes are high. We’re not talking about innocently forgetting to write in a card for the happy couple. This parable is a glimpse into Christ’s second coming and is one of many warnings to the Church to be found prepared and guided by wisdom when the time comes.
Like the ten bridesmaids, Christians sometimes seem indistinguishable. We go to church most Sundays, read our bibles, pray, tithe. Outwardly, we’re doing pretty good. Before we pat ourselves on the back, however, let’s remember that the Pharisees thought they were doing pretty good, yet Jesus called them white washed tombs (Matthew 23:27). We too can appear clean on the outside but live inwardly void of God’s cleansing power and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Notice this parable is not interested in convincing the reader that the bridesmaids were obsessed with knowing when the bridegroom (Jesus) would arrive. We also don’t see the bridesmaids crippled by fear while waiting for the procession (I don’t know about you, but I definitely couldn’t nap successfully feeling like that!).
A relationship with our Creator is not strengthened in any way by knowing when Christ will return (remember, Jesus Himself does not know the timing - Matthew 24:36) or by living in fear of that day. Rather, the scene is pointing out that no matter the timing, no matter the delays, Godly preparedness is possible.
Preparedness looks like Sermon on the Mount, ‘What you did for the least of these you did for me’ kind of living. It looks like hopeful and humble hearts that match our outward appearance. It looks like praying in unity with Christ for God’s Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on earth and in us. Now. When we do that, we quit running down the clock of Christ’s return half-heartedly. We quit trying to crack a code. We aren’t suffocated by the fear of being found unprepared.
If you grew up being taught those postures of preparedness, allow the Lord to wipe those lies from your heart and mind. Believe that they can be replaced by awe of our good God and a desperation to be Christ’s hands and feet right now. Begin to embrace a holistic picture of relational life in God’s Kingdom. Rest in this truth today: preparedness is being madly in love with One who came and who is coming again, every second of every day.