Does part of what Jesus describes in this parable sound familiar? Perhaps, it was going to be your first day on your new job, or you had an important meeting scheduled, and for one reason or another you went to bed a little later than you expected. The next morning as you rolled over and opened your bleary eyes and focused your gaze upon your nice AM, FM, stereo radio alarm clock, and you noticed that you had neglected to use the one feature for which you purchased it, the alarm.
The covers exploded off your bed and what took place next looked like an episode off a TV situation comedy. You tried to do every thing at once. If you are a man you were probably trying to brush your teeth, tie your neck tie and find a pair of socks that matched all at the same time. If you are woman you were undoubtedly grappling with your hose, while simultaneously trying to curl your hair, apply lipstick and select an outfit appropriate for the occasion. After several minutes of pandemonium you grabbed your keys, flew to the closet ripped your coat off the hanger and jumped into the garage, but just as you were getting into your car however, you noticed a large dark puddle beneath it. You reached down and touched it with you finger, and it felt slippery, and even with your limited automotive knowledge you knew that it was oil and you understood that without oil, you were not going anywhere.
Well, maybe you haven’t had a morning quite as bad as that, but all of us have experience with unexpected events, so it is not completely impossible for us to relate to this parable of our Lord, even if we are not familiar with the ancient Jewish wedding custom of the bridegroom and his attendants going to the house of his intended bride and her attendants in the middle of the night in order to catch the young ladies dozing and eliciting the kind of hilarious activity I have just described.
Interestingly, this is how Jesus our Lord describes the last day when He comes again to earth to raise up and judge the living and the dead. That is the event he is pointing to in this parable. It is the same event he so vividly describes in the previous chapter, chapter 24 of St. Matthew’s gospel, where he states that he will appear quite suddenly in the sky, like a flash of lightening, riding on clouds, and attended by his harvesting angels. And He says in Matthew 24:30 that on that day the nations of the earth will mourn.
Why? Because most people will be taken by surprise, they will be caught, in essence, with their pants down. They will be like the wicked servant whom Jesus describes at the end of chapter 24, just before today’s parable, who said to himself that his master would be gone a long time, so he chose to spend his time eating, drinking and making merry by beating up his fellow servants. Our Lord warns us that He, the master, will come on a day when that servant does not expect him and that he will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But, before we go on, I would like to point out that there is a difference between that parable, and many of the other parables that our Lord tells relating to the end of time and this parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The virgins or the bride and her attendants are a specific people. They are those who await the bridegroom and would be members of his wedding feast. They are what is called in our Lutheran Confessions the “visible church on Earth”, the church that we see with our eyes, the church that contains both believers and hypocrites, those who love the Lord and seek after the truth, and those who do not, those who are wise and have adequate oil in their lamps and those who are foolish and unprepared and have none.
This parable makes it quite clear that the church, as well as the world, will be judged and divided into two groups when our Lord comes again. He will take unto himself what we Lutherans call the “invisible” or “hidden” church. We call it the “invisible” or “hidden” church because we cannot see it with our eyes, yet we confess our belief in it in the words of the Nicene Creed as the “one, holy, Christian and Apostolic church” because God Word tells us it will remain until the end of the world. It is that group of people who are the wise virgins, the ones with oil in their lamps.
So now the question comes, “What is this precious oil without which we may not attend the wedding feast?” It is faith, faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, faith given to us as a gift by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. It is nothing more, and certainly, certainly, nothing less. And I ask you now, what greater tragedy could there be, than on the last day when our Lord returns or I might add, on anyone’s last day, the day that they die, which often comes just as unexpectedly, that there will be some who have been baptized, and who have heard the Gospel faithfully preached, and who had partaken of the Lord’s Supper, who will not go in to the wedding feast. Using the same metaphor as our Lord, it would be as if they had literally waded in oil in their lifetime and then at the end were found to have none.
"So, what is the problem," you might ask, "I believe, I have faith, I have plenty of oil." To that I respond, good, you have been blessed but, you must also understand that while we live in this sin-fallen flesh, we are always in danger of an oil shortage. You see there is this terrorist and despot whose greatest desire is to cut off our oil supply and sabotage the oil we already posses.
No, I am not talking about some wild-eyed Islamist nut job like Osama bin Ladin, but a much more deadly enemy, one who is as old as the world itself. His name is Satan and he has been busy since the very beginning, since our first parents dwelt in the garden of Eden, seek to cut people off from the grace of God. And even today he continues his dirty work, and he would like nothing more than to stop the preaching of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ altogether.
And do you want to know what his best weapon is? Do you want to know how he will take so many in the visible church with him to hell on the last day? He doesn’t do it with bombs or guns, no he uses this little pin called apathy and he pokes an ever so tiny hole in our lamps, so that if we do not replenish our supply constantly, if we do not attend worship, if we do not spend time in Bible study and prayer, when the bridegroom comes, we will trim our lamps and go to light them and find that they will not light because there is nothing left in them.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I beg you do not become complacent in your faith, do not take God’s grace for granted, for what greater horror could there ever be that to hear those awful words through a closed door, "Truly, truly I say, I never knew you."
But, enough talk of the devil and his work, let us instead procure oil, which is right here in our midst this day as it is in every church where the pure and holy Gospel is faithfully preached and taught. It’s like the gushers in those old black and white movies that erupt and spew oil everywhere, spraying oil over us all and running in a river down the center aisle and out into the street.
There is the derrick, front and center, the cross, through which God our Father pours out immeasurable blessings upon us though the shed blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have the forgiveness of all our sins, peace and reconciliation with our heavenly Father, as well as love and joy and strength and hope in our hearts.
How can we not avail ourselves of the blessed Gospel, the Good News that Jesus has rescued us from eternal death through his atoning death on Calvary? How can we not rejoice in the blessed hope that we all have in his glorious resurrection from the dead, which is a foretaste of our own resurrection on the last day? How can we not have our lamps filled to the brim by God the Holy Spirit who not only creates, but sustains our faith in Jesus just as He does in the hearts of all believers?
You know, it is no coincidence that when prophets, priests, and kings were anointed in the O.T. it was always with oil. An example of this is the 133rd Psalm:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
That is a wonderful word picture of Aaron the great high priest of God, being anointed wearing the breastplate containing the 12 precious stones representing Israel, (God’s people) and the oil poured over him running down his hair and beard and flowing over onto the breastplate and making them one.
What a beautiful symbol of what God the Holy Spirit does with us in His Holy Word and Sacraments. He makes us all one in faith in Jesus Christ. And it is solely by that gift of faith, that we will be and are now counted among the wise virgins who have the oil and it is solely by the grace of God that we have trimmed our lamps and are ready to go. So, what can we do, beloved, but give thanks and praise to God, and live out our lives in this most holy faith, until our long-awaited bridegroom comes and takes us to that high wedding feast in His kingdom Where we will rejoice forever. To him, to Jesus, be all the glory power, honor and might, now and forever. Amen.