Check Your Oil

By Chuck Griffin

There are many ways to classify people who call themselves Christian. Looking at Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, “foolish” and “wise” seem like two possible categories.

You may remember the story, found in Matthew 25:1-13. Ten virgins await the arrival of the bridegroom. It is their job to escort him to the wedding banquet, dancing and lighting the way with their lamps.

Five are wise, bringing plenty of oil for their lamps. Five are foolish, bringing none at all. When the bridegroom finally arrives, the five fools try to bum a little oil off their wise companions, only to be rebuffed. The wise girls, clearly excellent mathematicians, have calculated that if they share the oil, no one will have enough to provide light all the way to the banquet hall.

By the time the fools get back from the oil merchant, the wedding party is inside, the doors are locked, and the bridegroom denies even knowing them. The fools have missed the party entirely.

Jesus told this parable in a particular context. It and the surrounding parables are designed to describe life in the time between Christ’s ascension into heaven and his return. In other words, the lesson focuses on the lives we lead today as we await the final arrival of the bridegroom, Jesus.

You may have noticed that I began by classifying people who call themselves Christian, rather than classifying people in general. The parable has nothing to do with non-believers; the virgins in this story know who the bridegroom is. They know that he is coming and desperately want to be with him. Some just do a better job than others of living like true followers.

We as Christians should hear this parable as a call to action. Check the oil level—Do we have enough oil?

Of course, in interpreting the parable, this is the point where many Christians become confused. What, exactly, does the oil represent? How do we get it and keep it in store so that we’re ready?

Acts of Christian discipleship give us access to this oil, which can be understood as God’s ever-flowing grace. We worship; we study God’s word; we take communion; we fellowship in loving accountability with one another; we care for those around us on the margins of society. In these moments, we are refreshed, ready to serve as vessels of grace and prepared for Christ’s return.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once spoke of what he called “almost Christians,” the people who sit in church and hear Christ proclaimed week to week, but who never engage with God or a world so desperately needing to know the love of Christ.

These almost Christians claim to believe that Christ is remaking all things and will return to rule over all in love. But they then just sit there, empty. Theirs is a foolish strategy.

How sad, to know the bridegroom but miss the party.

Dear Lord, meet us as a people continually seeking your loving grace, to our benefit and the benefit of those around us. Keep us close to you until the day of your return. Amen.

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