The Last Sunday after Trinity (27th Sunday after Trinity)
November 23, 2014 A+D
St. Matthew 25:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the XSon and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The conclusion of the parable of the Ten Virgins makes the point perfectly clear. The end will come suddenly. The final judgment and second coming of Christ is going to happen. Some are going to be prepared and others won’t be. Some will be going into the wedding, and others will not. Some go to heaven and others don’t. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (v. 13).
On the surface, for those of us in the Church, this causes great concern. We dread the idea of some people not being worthy to go to heaven. We shutter at the thought that Hell is real, and that it will have real people in it. If you’re honest with yourself, that feeling inside of you right now stems from your questions about whether your family members are prepared for that day; whether your friends are prepared; and if you are perfectly honest with yourself, and see yourself in light of the Ten Commandments, you wonder whether you are prepared.
This parable is one of urgency and importance. It is of ultimate importance, because when Christ comes again everything you know and are comfortable with in this world will be stripped away. Everything that you mistakenly thought was important, money, prestige, career progression, social status, popular friends, fleshly pleasures, and the like, will be nothing.
However, the purpose of this parable is not to cause panic and despondency, at least not in the children of Abraham, the children of promise, the children of faith, you. St. Paul writes to those in Thessalonica, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day” (1 Thes. 5:4-5). He comforts the faithful that while this day will come suddenly and at a time they are not expecting, they will not be caught unprepared, because they have been appointed by God to salvation through faith, love, and hope in Christ Jesus, who died for them. So the point of this parable is clear. The end will come, and those who have faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will go in with Him into heaven.
Sometimes when Jesus spoke in parables about the kingdom of heaven, He himself gave the answer key, like with the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Jesus explained the details of those parables for us). But most of the time, He simply told a parable and moved on, leaving the disciples and us to read them and understand them according to the analogy of faith. This means that we are to read parables like the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and of the Leaven, and of the Hidden Treasure, and of the Pearl of Great Price (among others), understanding that God came in the flesh to suffer and die for sinners and to give salvation freely to everyone who believes. The rest of Scripture informs our analogy of faith. That’s why we read and study all of Holy Scripture. Jesus’ life and work is the key for understanding the parables. For instance, we will never understand a parable correctly if we believe that God is evil or that we can gain heaven by our works. Those two thoughts contradict the analogy of faith professed over and over again in the Bible—that God is good and has justified you by grace through faith.
With this key, you can hear the Parable of the Ten Virgins and be confident of the point, even if the details cannot be dogmatically explained. We can even have educated speculation on the details, allowing room for differences of opinion (as long as the opinions fit within the analogy of faith).
These are the details of this parable: outwardly all ten women are virgins, pure, undefiled. They all go out to meet the Bridegroom. They all have lamps. They all fall asleep. They all hear the midnight announcement of the Bridegroom coming. The Bridegroom is Jesus. All the virgins wake up and trim their lamps.
But here is the distinction between the five wise and the five foolish: only the five wise virgins brought extra oil and are called “prepared” (e[toimoi; v. 10). The five wise cannot share their oil with the foolish and this is not a sin. The five wise are granted access to the wedding because they have oil. The five foolish were not granted access because they did not have oil; they were not prepared.
The oil is the key difference. It is what allows the wise to enter and the absence of it keeps the foolish locked out even though they recognize the Bridegroom. The oil in this parable must be faith and those things that go along with true faith—trust in Christ alone, hope in good things from Him, repentance, love, ensuing good works, etc. All those things may be considered as possible meanings for the oil that the wise virgins bring with them, but not to the exclusion of faith. If the oil means anything, it must mean at least faith.
So how did the five wise virgins get it? And how do you know if you have it? Here we lean on a complimentary passage earlier in Matthew from the Sermon on the Mount. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). The five foolish virgins cry out “Lord, Lord,” and are not let in. They were not prepared. They did not do the will of the Father who is in heaven.
How is God’s will done? “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name [1st] or let His kingdom come [2nd]; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”
The third petition of the Lord’s Prayer explains what the oil is and who has it. God’s will is done when evil is conquered, which your Lord accomplished on the cross in His death. God’s will is done when you hallow His name by hearing His Word, are converted, repent, and believe that His sacrifice is for you. God’s will is done when His kingdom comes by the Holy Spirit entering you, creating faith, and working good through you—making you wise in Him.
These things make you “sons of light and sons of the day.” The oil of faith is created in you by Holy Baptism, when the Spirit of God took up residence in you. The oil continues to fill up in you by daily contrition, repentance, Absolution. The oil in your vessel overflows when you partake of the cup of the Lord, drinking His blood and eating His body in the Sacrament (1 Cor. 10:16).
When the call goes out by the Holy Angels of God, when your last hour comes, you can meet your Bridegroom in all confidence because He “has not destined [you] for wrath, but [for] salvation through [your] Lord Jesus Christ, who died for [you] so that whether [you] are awake or asleep [you] might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).
You are not wise on your own account, but on account of Him who redeemed you and prepared you for that day. Everyone who has the oil of faith will be welcomed into the wedding. It doesn’t matter if you think your vessel is brimming or scrapping bottom. It doesn’t depend on what you think of your faith. It has everything to do with what God says. And He has prepared you for this day. Although we fall asleep wait in the weakness of our flesh, our spirits yearn for that day. Let the trumpets blow. Let the day of the Lord dawn. Take us from this vail of tears. Come Lord, quickly.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.