We know the story of the 10 virgins. A group of young women were waiting for the bridegroom. Five had brought oil with them and five had not. The bridal party was delayed and so the bridesmaids slept. In the middle of the night, the bridal party arrives and, as the bridesmaids prepare their lamps, the foolish young women asked the wise young women to borrow some of their oil. The wise young women did not share their oil and so the foolish young women left to buy some more but while they were gone the bridal party arrived and those who were ready went inside the house. When the bridesmaids returned the Lord would not let them into the celebrations. All this is well known. But, the parable does not necessarily answer why the ‘foolish virgins’ were, in fact, foolish. We commonly assume the young women were foolish because they did not bring enough oil but there might be another possibility.
The standard interpretation of this story goes something like this:
“The ten virgins belonged to the kingdom and had every right to the blessings—except that five were not valiant and were not ready when the great day came. They were unprepared through not living all the commandments. They were bitterly disappointed at being shut out from the marriage—as likewise their modern counterparts [members today who are not prepared] will be” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 8).
I think this is reasonable and I can accept it. In addition to this reading, I wonder whether there is another reason why these virgins might have been foolish.
We know the foolish young women should have brought sufficient oil with them. There is probably little debate about that. They clearly expected the bridal party to arrive earlier than they did and after falling asleep (like the wise young women) the foolish young women were unexpectedly left with too little oil to greet the bridal party. But once they realised they did not have enough they had a choice; and they decided that it would be preferable to purchase more oil and potentially miss the arrival of the bridal party rather than be certain of meeting the bridegroom even though they had no oil to trim their lamps.
Clearly returning later – even with sufficient oil in their lamps – was the wrong the decision because the Lord would not let them in. But what if the bridesmaids had waited there with unlit lamps until the arrival of the bridal party? Would the Lord have recognised them and let them into the celebration?
This is difficult to answer and probably requires some socio-cultural knowledge about bridal processions in this era. Acknowledging my ignorance on this topic, I suspect it is not outside the realm of possibility that at times the oil ran out before the bridal party arrived and that the bridesmaids were still let inside to celebrate the marriage. (Of course, I am happy to be corrected and I am sure Talmage has said something on this topic.)
But, let’s assume that he would have let them inside. In this scenario, their error was not so much forgetting to bring oil but in misunderstanding what mattered most to the bridal party and the bridegroom in particular. In short, perhaps they were foolish because they went to buy oil instead of waiting for the bridal party to arrive. They were foolish because they thought the lamp mattered more to the Lord than the presence of the guests, who joyfully welcome them into the house.
This interpretation shares some similarities with the other two parables in Matthew 25, which also focus on preparing for the second coming of Jesus. The parable of the sheep and the goats and the parable of the talents both demonstrate that a person’s relationship with the Lord (i.e., how we understand Jesus) is important precisely because it shapes how they wait for Him to return. For example, in the parable of the talents, the servant with only one talent was inactive because he was scared of his master. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep are those who serve God by serving the least in society. In the parable of 10 virgins, the bridesmaids without sufficient oil could have been wise if they had focused less on outward manifestations of their commitment and more on being present for the return of the bridegroom.
Taken together, these parables (including the parable of the 10 virgins) suggest that what we believe about Jesus will influence how we wait for his return.
Note: if you get this far and do not think this idea is merely incoherent ramblings then please read this post by Kristine. It is a much more eloquent description of some similar themes.