Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Parable Project: The Bridesmaids

The bridesmaids' parable, also known as the ten virgins, is reported in Matthew's gospel.

I am simultaneously drawn and repelled. Simple virtue would suggest sharing. Who would expect such niggardly behavior by the groom. When is he to arrive? There is no telling. One needn't always be wakeful, need one?

And what of bringing oil? Simple prudence suggests that one would bring fuel to light a lamp. In our day this might be the equivalent of bringing a flashlight but no battery.

Even so, the bridegroom does not come off well here. "I do not know you" is a harsh response in the face of simple imprudence. If the parable warns against complacency in the face of experience, I can accept the warning without the heavy-handed reaction of the fickle bridegroom.

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
" 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'
"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."