The Five Stupid Girls Story.

Matthew 25.1-13.

When Jesus talked about his second coming, sometimes he’d share parables. Dude loves his parables. Dense Christians won’t get them, and commonly get suckered into dark Christian interpretations where they’re all about doom and death and hellfire. But Christians who seek wisdom, who know Jesus is returning to save the world instead of destroy it, know these parables are about hope: Jesus is returning! For everybody. Be ready to join his entourage. Otherwise you’ll be left out of the fun parts.

The “parable of the 10 virgins,” or as I prefer to call it, “The Five Stupid Girls Story,” is one of those warning parables. Dark Christians like to compare it to missing the rapture, and therefore going to hell. But the stakes are nowhere near that high in the story. Let’s start with the story.

Matthew 25.1-13 KWL
1 Then heaven’s kingdom will be like 10 teenage girls,
who took their own oil lamps to go out to meet the groom.
2 Five of the girls were stupid, and five practical,
3 for the stupid girls brought their lamps, but didn’t bring oil with them.
4 The practical girls brought oil in their purses with their lamps.
5 During the groom’s long delay, all the girls became sleepy and slept.
6 At midnight a loud voice came: ‘Look, the groom has come to meet his bride!
7 Then all these teenage girls got up and got their lamps ready—
8 and the stupid girls told the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil,
because our lamps are out.’
Those who were ready, entered the wedding with him, and the door was shut.
11 The other teenage girls came to the door later, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
12 In reply the groom said, ‘Amen, I promise you I don’t know you!’
13 So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.”

Okay, cultural context. First-century middle easterners “married” by simply living together and having sex. I know; various Christians insist they totally had marriage or betrothal ceremonies. And if they had money, yeah they did: The new couple’s families felt obligated to work out the dowry and finances, and sign contracts, and make sure nobody got exploited—least of all themselves. But if they were poor, they just started living together.

If they had money, they’d also throw a wedding feast, which is what Jesus was describing here. It was held at the groom’s house. He’d go to his bride’s house, go get her, take her to his house (usually with her entire family in tow, ’cause they were gonna party with them) and they’d spend a week eating and drinking and schmoozing with loved ones. So what these παρθένοι/parthéni, “maidens” (KJV “virgins,” ’cause usually they were), were doing was waiting for the bride and groom and bride’s family to arrive, and for the party to start. They were taking way longer to return than expected. Probably had to pack one more thing. Or a thousand more things.

All the girls brought oil lamps, which is basically a wick surrounded by oil instead of wax; it’s no brighter than a candle. It also lasts about as long, so if you’re waiting from sundown to midnight (and “midnight” in the bible doesn’t mean precisely 12PM; it’s just roughly around that time) you’re gonna be out of oil. Five of the girls knew they’d be partying all night long, and brought enough oil in case the groom didn’t have enough. Five had only the oil that was already in their lamps.

To be fair, they were kids. Not every kid plans ahead. Even the “wise” ones likely had parents who told them, “And bring extra oil!” Plus extra olive oil always came in handy. The ancients used it to condition their hair. Plus, if you didn’t care for the salad dressing, you could mix it with vinegar… Anyway, it’s just a good practice.

What made ’em stupid.

Not having enough oil with them, actually isn’t what made five of these girls stupid. What made ’em stupid was this:

Matthew 25.9-10 KWL
9 “In reply the wise girls said, ‘There may not be enough for us and you.
So go to the peddlers and buy yourselves oil!’
10A And while the girls had gone away to buy oil, the groom came.”

Yep. They left the groom’s house and went off to buy oil. At midnight.

Many an interpreter looks at this story and says, “Well you gotta be ready. You can’t show up at Jesus’s second coming unprepared.” Um… but you kinda can. If the five girls hadn’t left, and stayed there in the dark to wait for the groom regardless, you think he would’ve responded, “Oh, you don’t have oil for your lamps; you can’t come in”? Of course not. It’s a party; the more the merrier! Their lack of oil would be forgiven without a second thought. Or even a first one—“Oh, you ran out of oil? I didn’t notice. Did you try the brisket? It’s delicious.”

So what’s with their fixation on our preparation? Duh; works righteousness. Too many commentators, too many Christians, think Jesus’s second coming is only for the deserving. For those people who were good, and merit heaven. Five girls didn’t have oil, so this must represent how they didn’t merit heaven. Make sure you have oil—and then they tell you what that oil probably represents. Orthodoxy and bible trivia, usually. Sometimes good works. Seldom, but sometimes, fruit of the Spirit.

Those five “wise” girls, who cattily told the others, “Omigod, you don’t have enough oil? You’re gonna have to go buy some,” and then after the five foolish girls ran to town, “Omigod I can’t believe they fell for it.” Again, was lit lamps a requirement for getting into the wedding feast? Nope. They totally could’ve donated their oil. Could’ve donated all the oil, and sacrificially did without. Jesus used oil in his metaphor, so we’re not talking about a commodity—like some personal storehouse of good works—that’s inherently unsharable. They coulda shared it. They didn’t. So while these might be wise girls, they aren’t generous girls, or gracious girls, or even good girls. But then again, God’s kingdom isn’t granted by merit!

Anyway, the sad consequence is these five stupid girls didn’t get to join the party: They came back to find the door shut, and with crime the way it was in Jesus’s day, the groom wasn’t gonna open it for people he didn’t recognize.

…Well, not till morning, anyway.

Oh you didn’t think about that, did you? Jesus’s listeners would have. These girls weren’t gonna be shut out forever. This isn’t an analogy for sending them to hell! It only means they missed out on the groom’s reception. When Jesus returns to take over the world, Christians are gonna rejoice, and join his procession, and his team. The rest of the world, not so much—but Jesus’s reign over the earth is gonna gradually include them too. Same as this wedding feast will eventually include these five girls too, as soon as dawn comes and the doors open. They missed out on the initial fun… but they can still enter in, if they want. Jesus will still accept new followers after his return, y’know. It’s not judgment day yet!

Stay alert.

Fixating on the oil, and what the oil might mean, totally misses the point anyway. The point is entirely in Jesus’s punchline:

Matthew 25.13 KWL
“So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.”

Wake up doesn’t mean “make sure you have enough oil.” It means be there. When the Son of Man returns in his glory, be there to receive him. Be following him. Don’t be off somewhere else, distracted by stuff we think we gotta have first. Don’t fall for the old deception, “I can’t follow Jesus yet; I’m not ready; I need to be ready first.” No, you simply need to start following. Pick up equipment as you follow.

Stupid Christians worry we’re gonna disqualify ourselves because we’re not ready for Jesus’s second coming: We’re not holy enough, or knowledgeable enough, or haven’t racked up enough good karma, or don’t believe hard enough. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pursue holiness, knowledge, goodness, and faith. But God’s kingdom runs on grace, not those other things. All you gotta do to get in, is be there. Welcome Jesus with open arms, instead of shying away ’cause you’re short of oil.

There are gonna be a startling number of Christians who will freak the f--- out when the second coming takes place—“No! I’m not ready yet!”—because they think they gotta earn it first. I worry this unaccepting attitude might translate into they don’t accept Jesus, which means they won’t get to join him when he takes possession of his kingdom. That’s gonna suck.