This is one of Jesus’ parables of Judgment (it will be followed by the much more famous and easy-to-understand Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats). And it is placed in Matthew’s gospel during Holy Week as the preface to his anointing by Mary of Bethany (involving oil, by the way) and followed hard by the events of the Passion just two days later.
”So what?” you ask.
So this: a Gospel is a Passion narrative with a long introduction. The only reason a Gospel exists is to tell us the Big News that God, having become Man, has been crucified, buried, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, from whence he shall return in judgment on the Last Day. That’s the news the evangelists have to tell and that’s why every Gospel, after breezing over the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, devotes the last quarter of their ink to a 72-hour period in the life of their Hero. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection are the main event. Everything else—including the Parable of the Ten Virgins—is prefatory remarks: commentary on the meaning of that main event.But sometimes the commentary is, well, hard to follow. We get that the Bridegroom is Jesus returning. But what’s the deal with the virgins? Who are they and what do they represent? The Oil is a symbol of the Spirit, okay. But why don’t the wise virgins share it? And above all, why does the Bridegroom lock the other five out of the feast? Seems pretty harsh.
I sometimes think that if Jesus were telling parables today, he would have told a Parable of the Marathon Runner to make the point he is making here. Here’s the deal about running: you don’t just get up off the couch and run 26 miles. You start small and you build up the ability to do it. You get ready for the Big Day by living each small day before it with the clear awareness that the Big Day is coming when the habits, skills, and abilities you have cultivated before then will be required of you to meet the challenge of That Day.
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