The parable of the ten virgins has always been a strange one for me. I know I want to be like the five virgins who are wise. I mean, who wants to be grouped with the foolish sisters? And why don’t they share? Initially, they seem like stingy, wise virgins to me.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.”
It helps a little to understand, as much as one can, the culture and customs into which this parable was spoken. Weddings back then were more like traditional Hindi weddings are today in that they took place over numerous days. And we thought waiting as bridesmaids for the actual wedding to take place after all the preparation and getting dolled up and hours of pictures was hard. We are talking days of waiting and an uncertain start time, let alone start date.
Even a toddler can understand that bottom line of the parable: stay prepared, stay ready, for you never know when the bridegroom will announce himself. That part I understand.
The wise girls brought enough oil to last through delays. They had the longer view. I also understand that part.
But how does one read this parable through a Christ-centered lens rather than a moralistic lens?
This morning, as I was stuck in traffic, the Lord reminded me of another story from 2 Kings in which oil supply plays a significant role.Unlike the parable, this story involves the end of a marriage, rather than the beginning.
A poor widow who had lost her husband found herself at the end of her supply financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically. A creditor to whom the family owed money had come to take her two children away to be his slaves since there was no money to pay for the debt and no husband to work to pay it down. In desperation, she came to the prophet Elisha.
And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When t the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing (2 Kings 4: 2-7).
I want to be like the wise virgins who have ample oil. But so often, I am more like the widow. I don’t have enough physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally to do one day, let alone plan days in advance in a state of preparedness.
But what if the way to be prepared and keep our lamps burning with oil is to have empty vessels lifted unto the Lord in dependance and desperation like the widow?
We don’t have the oil we need. We never will. The stores don’t sell it. And even if they did, it would not be enough.
In the Old Testament, oil often represents the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, it would make sense why the wise virgins did not share their oil. The Holy Spirit cannot be purchased or borrowed, it must be given and received from the Lord Himself. It is a personal and intimate exchange. My dependence upon the Lord and His provision for me cannot be shared with you, and vice versa.
Each one must bring his or her empty vessels to the Lord to be filled continuously. This is what John 15 assumes when it speaks about abiding.
Preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming is a daily dependance upon the abundantly unctuous one. Lifting empty vessels, admitting our own utter lack and looking expectantly to the Lord for provision.
If emptiness, neediness, and desperate dependance are what it takes to keep one’s lamp burning with oil, then maybe, just maybe, I can join the wise virgin club.