Speaking of Life 5051│You Don’t Have to Be a Girl Scout
I was involved in Girl Scouts when I was younger. Maybe you were a Girl Scout or Boy Scout, too. The motto for Scouts is “Be Prepared.” This reminds me of the way Christians have been warned to be prepared for Christ’s return. One example that’s often cited is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids where Jesus is telling his disciples what the kingdom of heaven is like.
The story goes like this:
Ten young women took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 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, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those young women got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the other young women came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Passages like this one have often been plucked from scripture without thinking about them in the context of other direct commandments Jesus said or the way he behaved in the world. This story sounds out of character for Jesus who told us to love and serve others and put them first.
We don’t base theological doctrine on a parable because a parable wasn’t meant to be used that way. It’s a story that offers us the opportunity to consider truth from the point of view of different characters. In this parable, we see that the five bridesmaids who had plenty of oil believed that being self-reliant was more important than helping others. The five bridesmaids who didn’t prepare believed they deserved help from the ones who prepared. I mean, they had fallen asleep, waiting. But what if the parable isn’t about what the bridesmaids should have done or shouldn’t have done? What if it isn’t about the bridesmaids at all? Let’s consider a different perspective.
We assume that the five bridesmaids who ran out of oil are called foolish because they ran out of oil. But what if the reason they’re called foolish is because they listened to the other bridesmaids who told them to go buy more and then ended up missing the wedding? Maybe they were foolish because they forgot who the Bridegroom was and what he was capable of. This bridegroom was The Light of the World, and he didn’t need their lamps. They were foolish because they allowed their shame over running out of oil to drive them to try to fix it, and thus they missed the wedding banquet.
When the Bridegroom says, “I don’t know you,” he’s also saying that they didn’t really know him. And this is part of the lesson of this parable. When we focus on Jesus, we know he is the one who makes us enough. He is the light we need when our own lamps run low. He is sufficient.
May we be blessed with the understanding that we are made whole and enough in Christ.
I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.