Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.–Matthew 25:13
A Non-Electric Lamp
The summers were hot and humid in the town where I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania. During the height of summer, the weather seemed like it could change almost instantly. A day could be warm and sunny, and within a few minutes, dark clouds would roll in and there would be a huge thunderstorm.
These storms always scared our Jack Russell terrier, Cassie, senseless. I thought they were an exhilarating combination of both terrifying and fascinating– that is, until the day one particularly bad storm knocked out the lights.
A bad storm rolled in around dusk, and as the skies grew dark and the wind howled, the power went out in our small home. The entire house was plunged into darkness while the storm roared outside.
At my young age, I had never seen a lamp that worked without electricity. Before that night, I thought the old kerosene lamp that my grandmother kept on her dry sink was only for decoration. That was why I was surprised to see her place it on the kitchen table as she yelled out to my grandfather, “John! Have you seen the kerosene oil for the lamp?”
They searched the house in darkness with until they at last found the fuel for the lamp. I watched, fascinated, as my grandmother prepared the lamp and lit it.
The gentle dancing flame was a much softer light than I was used to using. With my weak eyes, I couldn’t read by it and none of my electronic toys worked. Nevertheless, I found it surprisingly soothing.
My grandmother carried the lamp into the living room and she made herself comfortable on her rocking chair. I sat down on the soft carpet on our floor and watched the flame dance. I enjoyed the comforting safety I found in the glow of the gentle as I fell asleep on the floor. I felt safe while the storm raged outside. Before I drifted off, I heard my wise grandfather say to my grandmother, “We will have to get more oil for that lamp.”
“Why?” My grandmother asked. “There is still almost half a bottle left.
“Because,” said my grandfather. “You never know when these things might happen. You have to be ready.”
“You have to be ready.” Such wise words. I wonder if my grandfather knew he was echoing the sentiments of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells us a parable. He speaks to us about the importance of being ready to wait and not losing hope. In this story, we hear about ten bridesmaids and their oil lamps. Their lamps, while they were also non-electric, would have been very different from the kerosene lamp I found so fascinating during that storm from my childhood.
The lamps that feature in this story were common across the ancient world. They were a small piece of pottery that would fit in the palm of your hand. They were shaped like a pointed bowl, somewhat like a tiny teapot. You would pour the oil into the center, and a wick would stick out of the lamp’s pointed end.
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
In this parable, Jesus describes how ten bridesmaids were waiting to escort the groom to the wedding banquet. Five of the bridesmaids are prepared to wait, no matter how long it takes. They have brought extra oil for their lamps and no matter what happens, they are in it for the long haul. They are ready and willing to wait, even if it takes all night. Jesus tells us that these five bridesmaids were wise.
However, the other five of the bridesmaids were foolish. They neglected to bring extra oil with them. Maybe they didn’t think they would have to wait very long for the groom. They certainly didn’t consider that they would have to wait all night long!
As was the custom of the time, they would have been waiting outside the home of the groom in order to lead him in a procession through the town and to the home of his bride. Once they arrived at the home of his bride, the wedding banquet would begin. Such wedding feasts were huge occasions and could last for days.
As the story opens, ten bridesmaids set forth into the darkened city to go get the groom. They bring along with them their “little clay lamps” which they carry carefully in their hands to light their way. Five of them have brought with them extra oil, but five foolish ones did not bring anything extra.
While they wait for the groom to appear, they fall asleep. The night grows very late and all ten lamps burn through their oil and extinguish. Eventually, it is midnight. A shout goes up, and somebody yells, “Hey! Look! Here comes the groom!”
The ten bridesmaids startle awake. The ones who brought extra oil with time quickly light their lamps, and the five bridesmaids without oil beg them to share.
Sadly, there isn’t enough oil to go around. The five wise bridesmaids process with the groom into the wedding feast, and the five foolish bridesmaids are left out in the darkness. By the time they are finally able to find oil for their lamps, it is too late. The groom doesn’t recognize them, and they cannot get into the party.
At the time in the Ancient Near East, it was customary that large celebrations like the one described in this parable could last for days, sometimes an entire week. Families would save for years in order to be able to afford a huge wedding. Having a large wedding party brought honor to the family and all of those connected to the wedding couple.
But, as anyone who has ever been married or attended a wedding ceremony knows, weddings can become VERY complicated very quickly. It seems something always go wrong on wedding day.
Jesus uses the parable to describe the coming of the Kingdom of God. It illustrates how no one will know exactly when the Son of Man will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead. As such, we must all keep watch and wait. It also shows that the wait might be much longer than any of us would expect. Although the darkness of the night stretches on and on as we wait for Christ’s second coming, we must be like the five wise bridesmaids and be ready to wait for as long as it takes for Jesus to arrive.
To illustrate this point, Jesus invokes the imagery of a wedding celebration. In this parable, the groom symbolizes Jesus himself as the Son of Man and the Son of God, both wholly human and wholly divine.
There will come a time, and no one knows exactly when, when Jesus will come once more. When he does come, it will be like a HUGE party, like a wedding feast. He will “make all things new,” and there will be no more pain or suffering. It will be like a big part, a huge wedding banquet.
The Heart of the Issue: Are we prepared to wait?
We ALL fall asleep—even the wise bridesmaids nodded off.
I believe the issue that is being emphasized in this parable Is not so much the falling asleep, but the lack of oil.
What does the lack of oil symbolize?
Why can the five wise bridesmaids not share their oil with the five foolish bridesmaids?
I think it is because the flame of hope comes from within, kindled by the Holy Spirit. You cannot light someone else’s lamp for them. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. We must open our hearts to God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, before it is too late.
I cannot judge the five foolish bridesmaids in today’s story too harshly for falling asleep. In fact, careful consideration of the story will tell us that all TEN bridesmaids fell asleep. Both the foolish and the wise drifted off into slumber.
We are only human. It is only natural that we should become exhausted with waiting. God understands this. That is why Jesus warns us and encourages us.
If all ten bridesmaids fall asleep, what separates the foolish bridesmaids from the wise ones? Jesus tells us that the foolish bridesmaids did not bring enough oil. “When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps (Matthew 25:3-4).”
Why did the foolish birdesmaids not take enough oil and the wise bridesmaids bring extra? I think it is because the foolish bridesmaids were not prepared to wait. Waiting is hard. It is long and arduous. “Surely,” they may have reasoned, “We won’t have to wait that long. The bridegroom will be here by midnight.” Perhaps the thought to bring extra oil with them was completely preposterous. They couldn’t even imagine that the bridegroom would take that long.
I know that I would have been tempted to do the same. But Jesus gives us a warning, “Keep awake!”
“Watch therefore for neither do you know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man comes. “
The word or phrase in Greek often translated as “Keep Awake,” can also be translated as “watch,” “be alert,” or “keep ready.”
Despite their best efforts, the disciples nodded off. Eventually, even Jesus’s closes friends and disciples denied Him.
We all fall asleep from time to time. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect except God alone. That is why we all need Jesus.
Waiting is hard, but Jesus IS coming. What shall we do while we wait? Keep strong in the faith. Replenish our oil by attending church (either online or in person), studying God’s Word, singing hymns, performing acts of kindness, charity, and mercy.
While we wait for him, we are called to show love to our neighbor, to the least of these, to those who are in need. By feeding the hungry and helping the sick. After this parable of warning, in the same chapter only about 27 verses later, Jesus tells us that whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for him (Matthew 25:40).”
Don’t let your lamp go out.
Don’t give up hope.
Get ready to wait.
This post is part of the series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.”
Now, it’s your turn! What Scripture verse is inspiring you this week? Let me know in the comments below! I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday.
Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series!
Trisha @ Joy of Reading
Nicole @ Christian Fiction Girl
Jacquelyn @ A Heavenly Home
Jessica @ A Baker’s Perspective
Becca @ The Becca Files
Jenny @ Author Jenny Lynn
Gina @ Stories By Gina
Andi @ Radiant Light
Leslie @ Words of Hope
Claudia @ By Claudia Moser