It is difficult to understand some of details of many of the parables of Jesus. Many points or details reflect a culture of long ago. Additionally most people simply have little awareness of current Jewish customs and ideas, not to mention those of nearly 2000 years ago. Of course to those who heard these words of Jesus the parables made sense.
Questions instantly arise as we read through the parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens, Matthew 25:1-13. The story begins with an understandable situation-a groom coming for his bride. The story quickly changes as five of the maidens are prepared but five are not. While we may be tempted to see this as a reference to the Laws of Moses and new Law of Jesus, there is more to this story.
Although it was common for the groom to come at night for his bride, five of the young women made a decision not to bring oil for their lamps which would be needed to light the way in the dark to the groom's house. The significance of this act is enormous. The five foolish maidens were in fact demonstrating disbelief. Is there really an engagement? Is there in fact a wedding soon? Does this groom even exist? These and other objections must be the mindset of these maidens. By coming unprepared, they were taking this stand: there is no groom coming.
Second, we must not miss the fact these young ladies went and joined in the watch and even brought their lamps! Although they did not believe the groom was coming, by every outward display they wanted to appear to anticipate the arrival of the groom. As the hours went by and the groom was delayed, they felt no uneasiness, but fell asleep.
Finally, waiting for the obvious, the arrival of the groom, is not accepted. The five foolish maidens did go and get their oil. They returned with expectation of joining in the celebration. Their appearance at the door to be let into the celebration is made not with apology nor pleas of any kind. The request is actually a command in the aorist imperative, meaning "open the door immediately!" Now they call him "Lord Lord" yet before they were unprepared and disbelieving. At their return they expect to be greeted as equals of the five maidens who came prepared...the party cannot continue without them!
The response of the groom sums up the underlying issues. This is yet another twist. The groom now says "Truly I say to you, I do not know you". The tense of the verb "to know" in this verse is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense describes a completed action in the past with continuing results. The result of this Greek verb is the foolish maidens are told " I never knew you at any time in the past and I still do not know you now."
In so many ways these young women were alike. They were of similar age, they dressed alike, they all had their lamps and they were all waiting. Five were waiting for the groom who was soon to arrive. Five only appeared to be waiting for the groom. They were willing to go to the extent of bringing lamps but they would not bring oil to light the lamps for the groom's arrival. Some would translate the word for 'lamp' as torch. The young women were willing to bring torches, but nothing to keep them burning. As soon as the torches consumed the original oil soaked rags, there was no more fuel...they would die out. Imagine, willing to bring a torch...but no what was needed to keep it burning. Far more than being foolish, they were rebellious and defiant. As such they could not be part of the wedding celebration.
Significant applications must be made from this story. As with every parable, Jesus speaks that we may know the truth and be more like Him.
First, do we really believe Jesus is to arrive soon? Five of the maidens believed the groom was soon to arrive and they were prepared. They came with lamps and oil and they eagerly awaited for the arrival of the groom. Five did not come prepared. The motivation for preparation is based on belief. Some prepare because they are convinced the arrival of Jesus may be very soon. On the other had, it is easy to put off or ignore preparation if we doubt Jesus is really going to come soon...or ever. How prepared are you for the arrival of the groom? What does this say about your faith?
Those who were unprepared and disbelieving went to great lengths to give the appearance of belief and anticipation of a soon to arrive groom. The five foolish maidens actually brought lamps or even as some translate, went to the effort of bringing a torch and waited with those who were prepared. Rather than tension building at the lack of oil as the day turns to night, the unprepared are able to fall asleep! Were the others aware that some among them were lacking oil? In the parable the lack of oil only became apparent when the groom arrived. The application for us is troubling. Are there some among us who look like they are waiting for the groom, but actually they do not believe he is coming at all? Is it possible we have become so focused on the preparation we have forgotten the reason for the preparation? Is it possible we may be assuming the role and looking the part, but are not connected to the groom at all?
The concluding words are especially hard to process. Some will honestly believe the door to the kingdom should opened for them immediately...yet the door remains closed. Why? Because the groom NEVER knew them. They had waited with the others, they had a torch like the others, knew the others and thought they were part of the celebration, but they were locked out! We come to church, we know the words, we have a Bible...but does He know us?