Gospel of Matthew 25: 1-13 (NIV)
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 (Jesus continued,) “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, 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. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Matthew placed this parable mid-way through almost two chapters devoted to the teachings of the Christ. These teachings were prompted by questions from Jesus’ disciples: “when will (the destruction of the temple) happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24: 3). His teachings were not only about how and when the end would come but also about “the coming of the Son of Man”.
Some Christian traditions use an annual cycle of events, a “church year”, with selected readings for the seasons of the church, according to a Christian calendar – a lectionary. In such a calendar the season anticipating Christmas is Advent. Advent not only recalls the first coming of Jesus, his incarnation, but also looks forward to his second coming. When will that be? “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” was Jesus’ response (24: 36).
And that was what prompted further teaching by means of this parable. Fortunately Jesus explained the meaning, both for his disciples’ understanding and for ours. The message is simple: “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
The application of this is relevant for every person who sets out to follow Jesus. It is not about whether some young women are foolish and others wise; it is not about being logistically self-sufficient. It is about whether or not people will be included in or shut out from the “wedding banquet” at the union of Christ with his bride, the Church.
For us, it is about being focussed on Christ at all times and having a perspective with eternity as its objective, a perspective that refuses to focus too much on short-term achievements. This runs contrary to many perspectives in Parliament House where the electoral cycle, be it three years or six years, can dominate the thinking of so many engaged in the “game”. The challenge then for Parliamentarians and those who serve them is to remain focussed on Jesus Christ regardless of what is going on about you. Keep faith in him. Honour him ahead of all earthly institutions and rulers. Heed his words.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Drawn from a talk delivered 19 November 2013