Matthew 25:1-13 (Pentecost 24A)
St. John, Galveston 11/12/2023
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The parable of the Ten Virgins is before us this morning. The parable is ultimately about the return of Jesus at His second coming. In fact, all of Matthew 25, which is where this parable is located in the Bible, is about Jesus’ second coming, what is referred to in theological terms as the Parousia, the arrival. Matthew 25 culminates in verses 31-46, the judgement scene, where Jesus comes and separates the sheep from the goats. We capture those verses in our Christian confession, when we say in the Creed, “He will come again to judge both the living and the dead.” And so, in these last few Sunday’s leading up to the Season of Advent, this is our focus, specifically the second coming of Jesus.

Again, the parable of the ten virgins is before us. As we read through it, and begin to contemplate it, it’s evident that it has four parts, or four elements, that need to be defined in order for us to rightly understand it. The first character, if you will, though not specifically stated in the parable, is implied. The bride is that unstated character of the parable. The bridegroom, you see, was coming to meet his bride. It was all part of a Jewish marriage custom of which we frankly know very little about to this day. What we do know, is that the bridegroom was coming to meet His bride and no one knew the day or the hour. It was up to those who would receive him to remain vigilant, that they might honor him at his arrival. Thus, being prepared to receive and honor the bridegroom, whenever he might come, is a central theme of the parable, even as it is a central theme of these last few Sundays leading up to Advent.

The New Testament uses the image of the Groom and his Bride, particularly in the Book of Revelation, to describe the relationship between Jesus and the Church. The bride is all those whose faith and trust are in Christ Jesus. As we speak of the Church in this way, we often refer to it as invisible, because none of us can see faith in the heart of another person, thus, we can’t truly see who is part of the Church and who is isn’t. In this sense, only God knows those who make up the Church. Nonetheless, the Church, the bride of Christ, is holy and pure, not, mind you, of her own doing, but by the deceleration of God Himself. She is spotless and holy, having been redeemed, having been bought back from the guilt and condemnation of sin and death by the groom Himself.

So, we have in the parable, the image of the groom coming to meet his bride, the Church. A natural question to ask regarding the parable, is who then are the ten virgins and what do their lamps of oil represent? Remember, five of the virgins were prepared to meet the groom, but five of them were not. The five who were not prepared to receive and honor the groom were designated by their failure to supply the necessary oil to keep their lamps trimmed and burning bright.

As to the ten virgins, we see here a different image of the Church, what is often called, the visible church. It is the assembly of people gathered together on any given Sunday morning to the hear God’s word and to receive His sacraments. Unfortunately, on the day of Jesus’ return, there will be those in the visible Church, who will be found completely unprepared to greet and to honor the groom when He comes for His bride. Of them, the groom ultimately says, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ That, I would suggest, is a frightening prospect. What it’s saying though is that there are both believers and unbelievers in the visible Church.

That being the case, we are driven to ask a crucial question about the parable. Namely, what is the oil that the five foolish virgins lacked? To answer that question, I’d like say first, remember, the five foolish virgins were not prepared to greet and honor the groom. That, in itself, is what made them unworthy of the groom’s coming. It is the essential issue at stake here. The lack of oil in their lamps was a sign of their unpreparedness.

Dr. Jeff Gibbs, who was a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, he’s retired now, but he wrote the Concordia Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. He gives us, I think, a sound understanding of what the oil in the parable may represent. “The oil (he says) represents whatever it takes for you to be ready to honor the Bridegroom when he comes again in glory.” That’s a pretty broad statement, isn’t it?  The oil (he says) represents whatever it takes for you to be ready to honor the Bridegroom when he comes again in glory.” Dr. Gibbs continues, “This means that, depending on your situation and spiritual need, the oil may stand for a particular Christian truth, or, for an important reality. Repentance is obviously needed if one is to be ready to welcome Christ Jesus when he returns, and so is true and humble faith. Perseverance and courage will be needed at times, and many will be the times when humility will keep you ever watchful for Jesus’ coming. Willingness to suffer for the name of Christ and to deny yourself (16:24) are key too. Sorrowful awareness of the world’s brokenness and a longing for God’s name to be hallowed on the earth (6:9)—these, too, can be the oil, ever ready in our vessels. And the list, of course, can go on and on. The oil is, “whatever it takes to be ready to receive and honor the King when he comes—the parable teaches us to desire those things.”

In the end though, the desires of our hearts, the things we love and cherish, the things we devote ourselves to, are shaped by God’s gifts of grace, aren’t they? The first of those gifts is faith itself. “Faith (we are told) comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” We are also told that Jesus is both “the author and the finisher of our faith.” And so, throughout our lives our love of money and possessions is shoved aside by our newfound love for God as we learn of the great love with which He loved us in His sending us His Son, Jesus Christ. As the Apostle says of Jesus, “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be made rich.”

The oil that prepares us to honor Christ and His gifts more than anything else in life, is beautifully demonstrated in the words of St. Paul regarding his own life. “But whatever gain I had (he says), I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

The parable tells us the bridegroom is coming. No one knows the day or the hour. But He is coming. Whatever delay we sense in His coming is but a sign of His goodness toward those He would save. Five virgins were wise as they waited for the bridegroom to arrive. Their lamps were trimmed and burning with ample oil for they wanted nothing more than to honor the groom and to be welcomed into the marriage feast.

As the apostle John has written, “I saw a  new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had  passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Thus, “they wanted nothing more than to honor the groom and to be welcomed into the marriage feast.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +