“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’ 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. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life I this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Now is my soul troubled And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man? So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit , and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread hen I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you loved one another: Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.”
After the cleansing of the temple, and the questioning by the chief priests and elders, Jesus spent a substantial portion of his time in the Holy Week preparing his followers for the events that would occur at the end of the week. Liturgy for this Holy Tuesday, depending on your orthodoxy, focuses on the parables of the Ten Virgins and Ten Talents in the Gospel of Matthew, or Jesus predicting his death and betrayal in the Gospel of John. Both offer insight into Jesus’s care for his disciples and us.
The parables of the Ten Virgins and Ten Talents come as part of a longer sermon that Jesus delivers to his disciples from the Mount of Olives. Following the events of cleansing the temple and Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple, Jesus retired to the Mount of Olives. Matthew recounts that as he sat there, the disciples came to him privately to ask for more information about when the destruction would occur. Jesus then began to outline most of the things that we look for as signs of the end times (ones we often erroneously attribute to Revelation). At the end of his description of the signs, he then reminds us that none will know the day or the hour but the Father himself.
After this passage, he then goes into the parable of the Ten Virgins, comparing five wise virgins and five foolish virgins at the time of the bridegroom’s coming. In Jewish society, a wedding was a lot more involved than we think of today and did involve an element of surprise and preparedness. A father would typically chose a bride for his son and would seek the bride’s consent. If the consent was obtained, the father of the groom would negotiate a bridal price with the father of the bride. When that was agreed upon, the marriage contract would be signed and a glass of wine would be shared to seal the contract. At this point, there was a legal bond between the bride and groom, but they would not yet live together. The bride would receive gifts to remind her of the love her bridegroom had for her, while he returned to his father’s house to prepare a place for her, literally building on to his father’s home and adding a room for them to inhabit. Once the bridal chamber was completed, then the son, the groom would wait for his father’s permission to go and get his bride. The groom never knew the day or the time. And the bride especially never knew the time or the hour. Both had to remain prepared. The groom to go and get his bride and the bride for the groom to arrive. The groom would have an escort that would proceed him, trumpeting the groom’s arrival in the middle of the night. The bride absolutely had to be aware and alert. Bag packed and ready to go, with enough oil to keep her lamp lit.
This is the background upon which Jesus provides the parable of the Ten Virgins. He is the bridegroom who is waiting to come get his bride the church. We, the church, have to be ready and alert for his return, to go with him. Likewise, the parable of the Ten Talents reminds us of being faithful with the provisions that he has given us here on earth. We cannot just sit on our hands, put our heads in the sand, and shut ourselves in the church away from society and wait for Jesus to return. We have an active responsibility while we live to be about the Father’s business and invest the talents that he has given us well.
He reiterates this same idea in the beginning passage of John, with the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. While this gets a little ahead of our timeline for Jesus’s week, it still proves a great parallel to the parables in Matthew. To me, the interesting verse in this section is verse 36, urging them to stay connected with him while he still lives. “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” He knows how little time he has left with them, and he wants them to maximize it. To make the most of it. Because it sets the stage for what he does next.
He reveals who will betray him and who will deny him. To the group, he makes the pronouncement that one of them will betray him. He’s just told them to stay in the light and now he is showing how one is going to choose darkness. I love Peter and John’s back and forth. “You ask him,” “No, you ask him.” It humanizes the disciples in a way that we often forget. Jesus makes an explosive statement, and they just have to know. And though they hear, it is interesting that they don’t seem to pay attention to Judas’s actions following. They would know he is the betrayer, but they don’t seem too concerned about it.
Likewise, Jesus will curb Peter’s bravado by revealing that Peter himself will deny him. Jesus is speaking of his death, and Peter is just self-assured that he would go to death for Jesus in that moment. And in the right circumstances, Peter might have. Had it been in “glorious” battle, Peter might have fought to the death to protect Jesus, to fight alongside Jesus, to honor him. But Peter wasn’t expecting Jesus to surrender, and he wasn’t prepared to die in such a way as that.
The beauty of both revelations is contained in the new command that Jesus gives. Love one another. That is how we will be known – by our love. In the revelation to Peter, Jesus still gives Peter hope. He tells him, even though Peter cannot follow now, he will follow in the future. Despite the denial, despite the shame that will come from that, Jesus’s message to Peter in that moment still says, “I love you and I won’t give up on you.” He’s showing that even though he will deny, Peter will still follow Jesus.
So what do we take from all this. I believe it is simple, and it’s the message that Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples. It’s still relevant to us today.
There will come a time when all of this will be over. No one will know exactly when it’s going to come, but it will come. So be ready. Don’t just bunker down and seclude yourself to wait until it comes. You have to be out investing in and doing the work I created you for. But be ready.
And the best way you can do that, it to love each other.
God, may we live up to that.
Almighty, everlasting God, grant us so perfectly to follow the passion of our Lord, that we may obtain the help and pardon of his all-sufficient grace; through him who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.