The Good Oil – 12 Nov 2023
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
In this last part of the church’s year before Advent comes again, we are emersed in Jesus’ lasts words on last things to his friends.
The scene for this parable is a Middle Easter wedding. It may seem quite strange to us. We celebrate wedding a little differently.
In Auckland, New Zealand, where Leanne, I and the kids served for four years, we had the pleasure of being exposed to a wonderful community of Lutherans from India who had emigrated to NZ and were part our congregation.
We would marvel at how the Indian folks celebrated big events. They put how we celebrate things in the shade!
At Christmas they did not just come for an hour to a church service and go home and open presents and etc. They would come for the service and stay most of the night sharing community dinner on Christmas Eve and do it all again on Christmas Day all day!
For other church festivals like Easter and Pentecost, they would actually pull an all-nighter in the church building, singing, praying and sharing food and drink etc. They put our celebrations in the shade!
In Israel or Gaza, when it is relatively peaceful, the customs described here by Matthew in his telling of this parable would still happen. Lots of things need to happen and the whole thing goes for a week, not just a day. It would not be unusual for a late-night torch lit procession to the final destinations to gather the bridesmaids.
But what is Jesus saying about his coming – his final appearance when everything will be complete?
Having the oil seems to be the key to getting into the new life in Jesus beyond this one.
What is the oil?! What ‘oil’ did the five wise women have and the five unwise women lack?
This is where it gets tricky, because whatever you believe the oil to be, will be the thing upon which your acceptance by Jesus sits.
If you say that the oil the five wise women had plenty of was love, then the unwise people did not have enough or do enough of it and so were shut out. So, if you don’t love enough, you will be locked out of life.
If you say the oil is patience, then the five foolish people obviously were not patient enough and so, were shut out.
Same for faith, or kindness or whatever other virtue you believe the oil to be. Whatever you make that oil puts the weight of your everlasting future in Jesus’ great wedding feast community fairly and squarely on it, and can you see, on you.
And if Jesus is saying that we need to do more, be more, love more last longer and etc … this turns this parable into a heavy weighted word of law. If you do not have or have enough of the oil of love or faith or patience, then you will miss the moment and be shut out forever.
Who of us ever has enough of these things?! Angry gnashing of teeth and hopeless resignation to all that you have lost becomes your lot.
But what if Jesus is saying that the oil is not our love or faith or patience or anything we can do or manufacture or achieve ourselves? What if instead, the ‘oil’ is a gift; gift to be received that makes us ready, not work to be done that hopefully makes us ready? Then this parable speaks of pure wonderful grace and fires our hearts in thankful faith and solid hope for what is to come because it is not based on me – but founded on Jesus.
I listened the Luther on this and it made sense …
The Lord … compares it (the Christian community – us) to ten virgins. Five are wise, five foolish.
The foolish virgins are those Christians who give the appearance and impression of being godly. They want to be good evangelicals (Lutherans) and are able to say much about these things. They praise the Word and say: “Yes, it is a splendid thing. This is what it means. It cannot possibly be otherwise according to the Scripture, etc.” Paul speaks of these people in 1 Cor. 4:20: “The kingdom of God is not in only talk, but in power.” It consists not in speech, but in life; not in words, but in works. Although they are able to say much about many things, they are in reality unwise virgins who only have the lamps or the vessel, that is, the external equipment, and they behave according to their nature, as Matthew writes (7:22), saying, “Lord, Lord!” The mouth is there, but the heart is far away (Matt. 15:8).
The oil is not in the lamp, that is, faith is not in the heart.
So, Jesus is saying that the oil is his saving love, his patience, his hope, his grace, his gift, not your work, effort, achievement.
The unwise virgins had the lamp and the wick – the outward equipment of faith, but no faith – no living relationship with Jesus, no trust in or awareness of Jesus and his joy and life and promise for them. They were all out of oil – all out of his love.
Luther goes on …
They (unwise people) give it (living trust in Jesus) no thought. Indeed, they know it not and imagine that their lamps are ready. Their nature is that they gladly hear the preaching about faith, and if they have heard the Word, they invent and fabricate for themselves a thought, a delusion in the heart which they consider to be oil, and yet they remain the same as before in their behaviour. Following their old ways, they are just as wrathful as before, just as covetous, just as unmerciful toward the poor, just as discourteous, etc. This faith is a manmade thing. Therefore, it is just like foam on the water, or like the head on a bad beer.
Friends, we are all capable of being a head on a bad beer. We can hear sermons and sing songs and pray prayers and etc but not walk that talk in real life between Sundays.
What the five unwise virgins lacked was the oil of was the presence of genuine, saving faith. A trust in the goodness of Jesus that is more than words, but power/action/doing that comes from his gifts to you: A trust for your very life in Jesus that shows in how you actually live out your week. That is a wise life; a ready life, an oil filled life, an ever-ready life that will be there when he appears to complete everything.
But how can we trust this?
Luther goes on:
But then comes about a wondrous change, that Christ gives Himself and His benefits to the heart, and takes the heart to Himself with all that it has in it, and makes it His own.
Christ is our Innocence, godliness, righteousness, blessedness and every good thing.
Furthermore, Christ has conquered sin, death, hell, and the devil.
So all of that comes to pass in the person who grasps it, who firmly believes and trusts that he/she becomes, in Christ Jesus, a conqueror of sin, death, hell, and the devil.
Likewise the innocence of Christ becomes your innocence. So also the godliness, holiness and blessedness of Christ and whatever there is in Christ—all of it resides in a believing heart together with Christ.
As a result, then, our lamps are not burned out. For if we wish to approach God with our own works, no matter how brilliantly they may glisten, no matter how fine they may appear, all is in vain and condemnation.
Friends, we are ever-ready if we are with him; reliant on his words, his promises, his love, his forgiveness for how we live the life he has given us to live- however long or short, easy or hard.
This is so, even if we at times fall asleep! The ten virgins are not condemned for falling asleep as they wait. They are only human! He knows my heavy eye lids!
But five are shut out because they had no living faith in the grace and power of Jesus. How do we know?
“I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” (Matthew 25:12)
He never did and neither did they, it seems. Jesus never knew them and they did not know him. They had the outward equipment of faith but no oil of trust in Father, Son and Spirit in the heart.
Parables prod the heart.
Am I living with the outward equipment of faith but have run out of real trust in Jesus promised present and future for me that actually shapes my day – both in what I do and what I avoid; in the decisions I am making, the life I and chasing.
Am I living a religious life but not a faith-shaped life in this love of the One who has claimed as his own bride for this promised feast? Am I skimming the surface of things and not the heart and truth of it?
But the Bridegroom is here the day of which Jesus speaks will come.
So, if you are running on empty, he knows – he ran himself to empty in human suffering for you.
If you are dull and blind, he healed that in many people. He does for you too.
If you are trying to get into the hall so hard looking for the good il of life in all kinds of places other than the word of Jesus, then time to look here at him. That will put you back in the ‘ready position’.
Like the Indians at Easter or Christmas or even at the cricket, His grace and this promised future will put whatever joy you now know in the shade.