Watch, therefore, because you know neither the day or the hour when the Son of Man is coming. Matthew 25:13
The warning the Lord gave then, is just as applicable now, and even more so; because in Matthew's day believers were under the impression that the ascended Lord would be returning very shortly … well within their own generation. But as time marched on the inspired evangelist
needed to encourage the church, which he did by recording three of the Lord's parables in a row, all speaking of a Master who is delayed. And with a fourth, the parable of the talents, which is an admonition to the church to steadily administer God's Word to God's people -- so that their faith should not run dry before the Lord returns. So that they would not give up on the one, true faith that conveys the redeemed into the splendor of the Wedding Hall. And so watch O Virgins! Be wise! So that you are not locked out forever.
Now if God's people needed to keep their focus then, how much more today when no one, except the church, keeps the End Of All Things before our eyes. When people are willing to entertain far-fetched theories of “apocalypse by climate change;” but no one thinks about the Lord's return. Not fundamentalists who endlessly chatter about it. And certainly not the world, kept in a comfortable coma by the devil, so that many will miss the Bridegroom's coming.
But though things look grim, we are not without hope, because we have this word of Jesus, "Watch!" A divine Word that awakens the drowsy, and gives life to the dead.
The parable our Lord tells here is first about himself. He is the Bridegroom who went ahead to prepare a place for us, and who will return so that where he is, we may be also!
The customs cited in the parable key in on the Song of Songs chapter three, the Royal Wedding of King Solomon to his Beloved, who was attended by a procession of bride maids. Solomon was the perfect groom. He was handsome and charming, wealthy and powerful. But also gentle and true. Attentive and filled with tender love for his desired Bride.
But Jesus is greater than Solomon, and we, the church, are his beloved! He loved us and gave his life for us. He washed us clean from all of our sins by his death on the cross, and renders us spotless, and without blemish before God, by his resurrection from the dead. He loves us when no one else will, and tenderly cares for us when no one else can.
The Virgins in the parable are the church, which is made up of people both foolish and wise. Which one are you? The foolish virgins ran out of staying power. As time rolled on they forgot about their Betrothed, and fell in love with the present age. With things that can never satisfy the human heart, or give us glorious life. They became infatuated with the ecstasy they could squeeze from each moment; and with the fleeting hope that tomorrow they will win the lottery and then all will be well.
But they expended no effort to hear the words of eternal life. They lost their focus, and with their focus, the holiness of life that marks Christian existence. Like the Thessalonians in today's Epistle lesson they became drunk with the moment. They relinquished the all important spiritual gift of self-control, and gave themselves over to every unspeakable sin of the flesh, and to every superstition and vain hope, just like we do today.
But there were wise virgins, too. They also lived their lives in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. They too were tempted to become impatient, and to trade in the eternal things for the transient. But sustained by the Bread from Heaven they did not quit.
The Delay is the time between Pentecost and the Lord's return when the Judge will descend to separate the sheep from the goats. But on a more personal level it is the span of time between your baptism and your death. It seems like a long time, and much patience is required. But if we are to: endure to the end and be saved (Mark 13:13) we must make communion with the holy, our first priority.
The Oil is the Word of God, the grace it delivers and the faith it upholds. It is the event we are engaged in at this time, feasting on the Lord's Word wherein our flasks are filled, and our lamps are kept burning bright. We have God's command to hear his word, to learn it, believe it, treasure it; to eat it and drink it at his altar, and to let it transform our lives. But how does such a transformation occur?
It is nothing you yourself can accomplish by your own reason or strength, or by inviting Jesus into your heart. But rather it is occurring here and now. For there is no greater teacher of the faith, nor life sustaining power, nor giver of patient endurance, than the gifts the baptized receive at God’s altar today.
But we must be careful, too, not to mistake the glorious doctrine of "salvation by grace through faith" for a theological welfare program. One whereby we are carried to heaven on beds of ease. We are Children of the Light. Children of the Day. To us much has been given, the promise of a New heaven and New earth, the end of all tears and calamity, and therefore much is also required. In baptism we are granted both the power and the responsibility to organize our lives like the wise virgins did. To live them in a constant wedding procession to and from the Altar where we obtain mercy for all we need; and to carry mercy into the world wherever we go each day.
And so today hear this Word of the Lord.
Because you know neither the day nor the hour when the Bridegroom will come.