I remember in my early years as a youngster, how a good friend of mine, a school teacher who introduced me to playing the keyboard had also tried to teach me how to pronounce the English alphabet. At that time a light-bulb went on in that tiny head of mine and caused me to ask “So I could pronounce my own name by simply reading out its letters in English?”
Of course, I didn’t think or realize that if such was true then I’ve been pronouncing my name in French the wrong way all along. To answer my question, he said, “No.”
This brought me to the common mistakes readers make when reading the parable of the ten virgins out of Matthew 25. First of all it’s a parable, which says that the meaning is not hidden in what is said but in who said it and why. This is why theologians have come up with so many interpretations by simply looking at what is said and start substituting term for term with some help from linguists and arrive at some conclusion that is so far from the message of the parable itself.
Of course, by now, you might be expecting that I provide my own interpretation or definition of the parable and build a case for such definition. It would help to some extent. And after all, Christ did say, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs”, which very much says to teach the true meaning of his Word. But the question remains, “by what light?”
Even if you had started substituting word for word using symbols, at the end of the day, the message and its purpose would still be missing. It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together where all the pieces fit, yet there’s no big picture from the assembling of the pieces. There’s no picture at all. That’s the challenge that only faith, God’s revealing of the meaning of His Word, the revealing of Christ, can address and fully satisfy.
In Cryptography, if you know the length of a particular passphrase and are told of its complexities, maybe you can come up with an algorithm that will simply spill out passphrases that fit the complexities, yet the probability of finding the key passphrase is almost beyond computation. Especially if the language of the passphrase is unknown.
When it comes to Christ’s parables, the language is love, faith is the key, and the gospel which is the unveiling of God’s glory is the decrypted message.
The parable of the ten virgins was not meant to sink us into worries with saying, “am I a prudent or foolish virgin?”. After all, Christ had said numerous times, “Do not worry.”
The parable wasn’t meant to sink us into anxiety by “keeping watch” as one who is afraid that something gruesome will happen to them should they fall asleep. The watch we’re called to keep is our eyes being fixed, directed to the hope Christ is to us in God. And of course, whenever we lose sight of such hope by redirecting our attention to things that are seen and heard, we suddenly “feel” helpless and hopeless. The good news is that grace is the one keeping our eyes on Christ, and not ever our human efforts.
After hearing the parable of the ten virgins, your conclusion should be no less than the disciples’ after Christ had told them how impossible it is for a man to save himself. “Who then can be saved?”, said they had asked. And the good news is and will always be, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
Salvation is of God. To be foolish is to be lacking the knowledge of God’s love for you. Without such knowledge, all we were to do and live is foolishness.
As Paul had once said, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
We don’t give the oil, we don’t give the Holy Spirit. God gives the Holy Spirit. And if one is foolish, it is not by our withholding of the Holy Spirit, it is not by our determination. And if one is prudent, it is by the grace of God.
At the end of the day, the Word of God, Christ Jesus, is the lamp and the oil is the Holy Spirit, and those who are still trying to justify themselves the passing glory of the old covenant will soon find themselves in dire need of the glory of the new covenant who is Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the living water. We cannot share the Holy Spirit. We cannot give the Holy Spirit. And yet the Holy Spirit can and will shine out its splendor through the love and the joy and the peace and the rest and the hope we live by in Christ Jesus. All to the glory of God, all to the revealing of God in full measure, the revealing of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Lover, our Shepherd.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
Rejoice in the grace that saved you and keeps you, the grace of Christ Jesus to the glory of God, our deposit, the Holy Spirit.