The Wise and the Stupid: based on Matthew 25:1-13, prepared by Joe Ellis, Nov. 8, 2020
The parable of the ten girls is quite illusive — its difficult to pin down precisely what Jesus is saying. If you are looking for exegetical precision and certainty, this is a tough row to hoe. For me, there are a lot of questions that swirl around this parable. Is the arrival of the bridegroom something that’ll happen at the end of time — like when Jesus finally returns, as we see in the wedding feast at the end of the book of Revelation? Or is this parable about something that would happen to Jesus’ followers in the very near future? Just earlier Jesus had been talking about the destruction of the temple as the sign that He’d received power and authority from his Father. Could that be what Jesus is pointing to in this parable? Also, who is the bridegroom in this parable? Is the Bridegroom God the Father? Is the bridegroom Jesus? Also, its not clear what the different parts of the parable represent. Does the oil mean anything? Jesus certainly doesn’t spell it out. He doesn’t say the oil is good works, or the oil is having the Spirit, or knowing the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t come out and tell us like he does with some other parables. Nor does Jesus tell us what to think about the fact that those young ladies fell asleep waiting for the coming bridegroom — everyone fell asleep, both the wise and the silly. Plus Jesus doesn’t tell us what to think about the fact that the wise girls didn’t share their oil with the stupid girls. The word stupid is one of the dictionary definitions of the greek work describing those five young ladies. 1
There are some things about this parable that are a bit more clear. For example, we know a little about Jewish weddings. The girls were in the wedding party. They were supposed to wait for the bridegroom to come from wherever he was (we don’t really know why he took a long time coming, but he did). This young ladies were supposed to wait for their friend the bridegroom, and then they’d all walk or dance to the bridegroom’s house where they would celebrate the wedding with a feast. Another thing that’s clear is that the main thing that separates the young ladies who were stupid from the ones that were wise is that the wise girls were prepared to wait. The young ladies who were foolish were not prepared to wait. As a result, they couldn’t welcome the Bridegroom when he came. As far as I can tell, Jesus is saying — be prepared to wait so that when the Bridegroom shows up you have resources to welcome Him. Be prepared to wait, and know that waiting will deplete your resources. If the Bridegroom had simply showed up on time there would have been no problem. No one would have been able to tell the difference between the wise and the stupid — both would have had adequate amounts of oil for their lamps, and both groups would have danced with the Bridegroom all the way to the wedding feast. But the Bridegroom was delayed — the delay depleted the foolish one’s resources. The depletion of resources caused anxiety. The depletion of resources led to a frantic scramble to get more oil. The result was that the stupid one’s weren’t present to welcome the Bridegroom and they missed out on the celebration. All because they were not prepared to wait. They were not prepared to have their resources depleted. 2
Because they were not prepared, they could not offer welcome to the Bridegroom. Are you prepared to wait? By that I mean, are you prepared to have your resources depleted through the process of waiting? Let’s take COVID time as a litmus test. This is a time where we are all waiting, waiting, waiting, often anxiously, for things to go back to normal. Each one of us has a slightly different ways of framing what’s going on, and what it means to go back to normal. Some of us are waiting for a vaccine, some of us are waiting for the governments to realize that the impacts of isolation are far worse than the virus. Whatever it is, normal life is suspended and we are waiting. As we wait, we’re running out of resources. I feel that. We might feel like we’ve been holding our breath underwater just a little too long and wonder how much longer we can hold on. Like the stupid young ladies in this passage, we all might find ourselves running low on oil — running low on the oil that we’re supposed to have in our lamps. What other things might deplete your resources as you wait? For some of us its waiting to feel better. Waiting, waiting, waiting to feel healthy and strong again. But while your waiting you find the oil draining from your lamp. For others its waiting to find meaningful employment. Waiting, waiting, waiting to find work that gives you a sense of purpose. For others, it might be waiting for a particular person to not be unreasonable and annoying. For still others waiting might look like waiting for the day when a broken relationship is healed. The cutoff from that person is painful, and so you are waiting, waiting waiting, and 3
as you’re waiting the oil in your lamp is drying up. What are you waiting for? What is draining your oil? Let’s imagine that the oil in the lamp is the fruit of the Spirit — the virtues of the Christian faith. I’m going to take some liberty interpreting this parable because Jesus didn’t totally spell it out. So, let’s say the oil is having love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Imagine that someone demands that you put on a mask, what happens in your soul? Maybe you don’t find that depleting. So then imagine someone tells you how stupid it is to ask people to social distance and says it’s all nonsense. When you get a COVID related shove, what happens in your soul? What happens to your love, does it turn into dislike? What happens to your joy? Does it turn to resentment? What happens to your peace. Does it turn into an anger in your chest, butterflies in your gut, a tightness in your shoulders or jaw? What happens to your gentleness? Does it turn into aggression? Does it give way in order to slam another down? What about your self-control? Do you lose control of your words, offering a spitfire of rationalizations? Think over September and October — in this time of waiting and uncertainty where all of our resources have been depleted — How’s this impacted your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control? This to the other areas in your life that you find yourself waiting. Relationships, health, work, politics, or something only you know about. What impact does waiting have on the oil in your lamp? Are you still able to show the fruit of the Spirit, or has dryness overtaken? 4
The goal of the young ladies in the parable was to welcome the bridegroom. The stupid ones underestimated the resources required of them, and could not welcome the bridegroom. Their darkness was too great. If we’re drained of our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control, what kind of welcome can we give bridegroom? Will we be able to set aside our anger, frustration, resentment, hostility, annoyance, bitterness, or fear quickly enough to say, “Hi! Welcome. So good to see you. Everything’s great here. Let’s go to your party.” Our masks don’t fool the Bridegroom. Besides, its not just about putting on a good face when He walks into the room. Two parables later Jesus tells us that the way we treat those we think are stupid and inconsequential are the ways we treat him. He put it this way: “I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Just as we do not treat someone with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control, we do not do it to Him. Which of these are running on empty? Where do you need to refill your tank? One of the reasons I’ve chosen to talk about the fruits of the Spirit is that throughout Scripture a metaphor for being filled with the Spirit is that of being anointed with oil. When we are running on empty, when we’ve waited long and are short on resources we can’t just pretend to have light when in fact everything in us is darkness. That’s would be about as silly as one of the 5 stupid girls holding up her unlit lamp pretending it was giving light in the darkness. Sister, you’re not fooling anyone... well we might fool each other, but what’s the point in that. If you find yourself running on empty, take time, reach 5
out— ask the Spirit to fill you. Ask the Spirit to fill you with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and self control. Pray for the Spirit to fill you, but let’s also be proactive about getting filled. It’ll look different for everyone. Resting and meditating on the promises of Scripture. Taking a leisurely walk in creation. Having a vulnerable, honest conversation with a friend about how you’re feeling dry and can’t seem to get life back no matter how you try. Pray together. Being kind to yourself. Being kind to others. Slow down and rest. Asking for help. Giving someone help. You might not have found what fills you up, don’t stop looking, but also don’t look by yourself. Often when we’re in a place we’re waiting its tempting to play the victim and blame what we’re waiting for. Stupid Covid is a phrase you’ll often hear in our house. Let’s not be victims. In the parable, the 5 stupid girls didn’t blame the bridegroom for showing up late. They’ don’t tell him off for taking so long. They didn’t blame the night for getting dark — the parable puts the responsibility on them for running out of oil. Gulp. It feels safer to be a victim than to take responsibility for being empty and dry. Let’s not blame circumstances for why we’re empty, let’s look inside ourselves. COVID may have given us the gift of showing us that we’ve been walking around with too little oil. When ideal circumstances disappear we’re given the gift of seeing ourselves a little more clearly. After all, ideal circumstances have far less control over us than we might think. After winning the lottery, people usually return to their normal levels of happiness or unhappiness in a couple months. A person who was generally grumpy before things got hard, will probably be grumpy 6
while things are hard, and will likely have similar levels of grumpiness when things get easier. Let’s not blame your circumstances, let’s not play the victim. Let's seek the Spirit. Let’s fill our tanks with the Oil of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be known as people of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control — even in the worst of times Let’s help each other in this. In the parable the wise girls don’t help the stupid girls. Jesus was making the point about being ready for the coming Bridegroom. In the meantime, we can of course help each other get filled up. Let’s be honest when we’re feeling dry, empty and grumpy and help each other find fullness in the Spirit.