1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Do you remember when you learned how to drive? I was a nervous wreck despite all my adolescent attempts to look cool and collected. There were so many things going on that I had never considered as a passenger in a car. There were all these buttons and knobs and dials in front of me. It was a manual transmission so there was a clutch and shifting to master. There were cars coming toward me and away. Some were turning off or onto the road. It was a sensory overload. I was exhausted after my first lessons. It did not help that my father was giving me those lessons. As I became more comfortable with driving, I began to know what to pay attention to and what was not an immediate threat. I could find the turn signal without taking my eyes off the road and now often have no recollection whatsoever of shifting through the gears of my manual transmission. I no longer dread starting on a hill. But I still must watch what I am doing.
Jesus enjoins us to watchfulness today, a close attention to those things which are necessary. I think we often get hung up on this parable with the strange image of the virgins awaiting the bridegroom. Wedding practices in the ancient Mediterranean basin were very different than our weddings. We pay attention to the virgins but do not listen to Jesus. The result I think is that this parable comes off like financial planning in overdrive. Make sure your 401k oil-stocks are filled so you are ready for whatever comes. Jesus, however, does not enjoin us to fill our oil reservoirs at the end. He tells us to watch. That watchfulness is the lamp full of oil.
What is Christian watchfulness? It is not standing out on some hill in a white robe with your head tipped back and eyes on the sky. It is paying attention to the life which God has given me to live. The Jesus who appears on that last day is here right now. He is in the people I serve, and he is in me as I serve them. I will recognize Jesus on that last day, not only because the myriads of angels on either side will be a dead give-away. He will not need a name tag. But I will know Him, and He will know me because we have lived a watchful life together. I have seen His face in the child whose thirst I have slaked, the prisoner visited, the hungry man fed, and the woman who wears the coat I gave her. I have seen His face in the many who have extended to me a hand of help and blessing on my own days of need. In those relationships of care and love, I have watched Him. He has memorized my eyes in the moment of my baptism. I will know Him, and He will know me. He tells us today to watch for him right now.