|The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins by William Blake|
Sunday, November 25, 2012
A Foolish Oil Shortage
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Who would’ve thought that the day would come when $3.29 would seem like such a good deal for a gallon of gasoline? But it wasn’t that long ago that it cost me over $20 more to fill the gas tank on our van than it does today. While political parties point at each other, and many say greedy oil companies are the culprit, the fact is that the high price of gasoline is caused by a number of foolish choices, shortsightedness, and the simple law of supply and demand.
For several years American refiners have been operating at above 100% capacity (however you can do that). While consumption of oil products has continued to rise steadily, no new oil refineries have been built for three decades. In addition, regulators have restricted development of pipelines that would carry crude oil from Canada, and environmental concerns have prevented drilling at a number of promising oil fields. This all comes on top of the fact that much of our imported oil comes from the most politically sensitive area in the world.
But as much as the price of gasoline might affect our bank balance, we didn’t come here to discuss economics—either on a national or personal basis—did we? We didn’t come here to hear about foolish oil shortages, did we?
Come to think of it, maybe we did. Or at least that’s what Jesus seems to have in mind to teach us in our text for today, Matthew 25:1-13. Here, in “The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” Jesus speaks about an even more foolish oil shortage that occurs among those who call themselves Christians—those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and who fully expect to be with Him in the heavenly Paradise one day. Here, Jesus proclaims the truth to His people for the purpose of warning the foolish in the congregation and comforting the wise in the Church.
Jesus teaches His Church, depicted as ten virgins, a very important truth. All them have heard of and know the Bridegroom. Every virgin anticipates His arrival. Each fully expects to be ushered into the eternal marriage feast. All of them even become drowsy and fall asleep. All of them, when they are aroused by the midnight cry, go out with their lamp in hand to meet the Bridegroom.
This corresponds to the complete congregation here at Zion/Emmaus—those here today and those who for one reason or another are not. Each of you has heard of the Lord God and has been brought to faith in Christ through the Gospel. Every one of you fully anticipates the arrival of Jesus. Each member of this congregation fully expects to be ushered into the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb.
But take a closer look at the virgins. Half of them are foolish and the other half are wise. The foolish virgins have no oil with them. They’ve got their lamps in hand, and the wicks trimmed, but they’ve neglected the oil. Is it any wonder that Jesus uses the Greek word for moron to describe them? The wise virgins not only have their lamps, but also flasks of oil to keep their lamps burning, enabling them to behold the gracious Bridegroom and remain ready for His coming.
So take a closer look at those Christians at Zion/Emmaus Lutheran Church. Some of those Lutherans are foolish and the others are wise. The foolish members have no oil with them. They’ve been baptized and catechized, but they’ve been neglecting the oil. The wise followers of Christ not only have the promise in hand, but also faith, which hears the absolution: “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water and which is strengthened by Christ’s very body and blood. Each of the ten virgins has a lamp. The wise have made sure that there is oil for the necessary light, but the morons neglect the means whereby faith is kept alive. And then the Bridegroom is delayed.
Why? The parable doesn’t tell us. The important point is that Christ could return at any time. Make sure to have enough oil!
So what is the oil? The oil in the lamp is the means of grace. The oil is the Word of forgiveness bestowed in the Absolution. The oil is the baptismal grace that daily rejoices in the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The foolish say, “Hey, I was baptized in church.” The wise, “I am baptized into Christ’s death.”
The oil is the bread and wine of the on-going feast of victory from our God who sustains and nourishes our faith in His Supper. The morons think that the Table of the Lord is nice but not necessary, thus cutting themselves off from this on-going feast. Not hungering for the body of Christ, their soul waits for the Lord like a fool carrying around an empty lamp and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Two or three weeks of fasting from the feast becomes two or three years and then extends to two or three decades.
The wise Christians long for the Divine Service where the Lord serves the oil of gladness in Word and Sacrament. The wise one hungers for the meal and is thankful that it is served often. The wise one prepares for entrance into this sanctuary by recalling the triune name into which he or she was baptized—that is, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the holy place where Christ announces His forgiveness for all sins of thought, word, and deed.
Here is oil of gladness, dear people. Here, a Christian may pray, “O most merciful God who has given Your only begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins; and by Your Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of You and of Your will and true obedience to Your Word, to the end that by Your grace we may come to everlasting life.”
Here, we hear the Good News: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins… He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
Such a wise man or woman may return to his or her home justified and able to fall asleep at night knowing that whenever the Lord may return, he or she is ready. Here is the oil of gladness that sustains the soul in a land of darkness and keeps it prepared for the eternal joys ahead.
And what of those who have lamps without oil? What of those who think that God will open the door to them only because of their Lutheran lineage or their claim of good works or the legalistic foundation of their religion, or the best intentions of their sinful heart. The foolishness of these morons is such that they still fully expect to enter into Paradise. So with a devilishly placed veil over their eyes, they lay down at night with self-deceptive thoughts. They dream sweet dreams, but sleep the horrid slumber of those who have fallen asleep unprepared, their lamps bone dry of the enlightening, lifesaving oil.
Then at midnight comes the cry: “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” All are awakened and all arise. Each one readies her lamp and every wise virgin has the oil needed. What a time of great joy and hope and anticipation! What each one has lived for and prepared for is at the door of eternity. The wise virgins will be escorted from the ongoing feast of the Church in time to the eternal feast of the Bridegroom that lasts forever in Paradise.
But what about the foolish? The horrid reality hits them. They realize they have been negligent. But the day of salvation has passed and the time of God’s gracious invitation has ended. They’ve tried to get everything in order but in their frantic activity they neglected the one thing needful. Too late they start looking for oil. But the foolish may not have the Gospel promise that has been applied to the faithful heart of the wise. Neither, on that day, will the wise be able to evangelize the lost. And so the foolish virgins rush out to find oil. But it is too late, and when they come back they find the door shut.
These foolish virgins come, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But would those who have despised God’s preaching and His Word, as well as have not found it necessary to partake of the on-going feast here, suddenly want to be with the victorious, ascended, reigning, majestic Son of God who has the eternal feast?
They still think so, but it cannot be. If the Ancient of Days opened the door to Paradise and stood before them, they would cower and be consumed, for they would meet Him, not according to His grace and mercy, but in full view of His perfect wrath and holy righteousness. They will be like the naked who stand exposed before the eyes of the entire world in complete shame, guilt, and uncleanness, only they will be standing before God’s omniscient eyes.
So what will be said by the Lord God Almighty standing on one side of the door to those foolish, unprepared individuals on the other side? The Bridegroom replies: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” And so Jesus ends this parable concerning the kingdom of heaven: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
And so you wise ones watch. You watch with joy because although the Bridegroom delays, He is coming. He who shed His blood to redeem you will not forget you now. He is coming; and because He has prepared you by His death and resurrection, you know the end of the story—yours is the wedding feast, and you will live happily ever after. This is true, not because of your merit or your knowledge, for that is only foolishness. This is true because the Lord has made you wise. By His blood and merit, He has taken away your sins. By His grace and invitation, He keeps you ready for His coming.
Truly this day He prepares you still with this Word of His that gives you eternal life and makes you wise unto salvation: You are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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