In today’s world shaped by reality television, it is no longer a requirement to be wise. You could be a perfect fool and still have a reasonable chance at being a reality-show celebrity commanding millions of twitter followers and earning a fortune for your effort or rather the lack of it. However, if being wise is a priority, no other parable of Jesus educates us as much as that of the ten virgins.

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 ” ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ 13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25)

The bridegroom is an image used of Christ in the Bible. Christ will come again at an appointed time and have a wedding banquet for his bride, the church of God- those who faithfully follow him. The cultural background of the story indicates that those who were able to join the wedding procession would alone be let in to the banquet, as the doorkeepers would not recognize others who show up later.

Some things are common to the two groups of virgins-all of them took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. All of them desired to join the procession and be let in to the banquet. It is true that most people would like to enter into eternal life and be in heaven for eternity. When we are caught up with the troubles and pressures of this life, we fail to recognize God and forget about eternal life. But at the depth of our hearts, we all know that this life will not last and one day we would need to stand before God and give account of ourselves. Who would not want to be welcomed into the eternal dwelling of God?

The other aspect common to both groups of virgins is that they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Daily life in this world is sufficient to take our attention from God and the eternal to that which is temporary. The second coming will take us by surprise and when it does happen, there would need to be a quick re-orientation to that which is important and eternal. And the difference between being able to respond positively to the second coming despite our worldly occupations and not being found with Christ comes down to having oil to keep our lights burning.

A burning lamp represents a life that shines for Christ- one that reflects the nature of Christ and one that is productive for Him, demonstrating the eternal, godly values to others around. Having faith in Christ needs to be validated by works in accordance with that faith. Sadly, most Christians settle for a token belief in Christ with nothing in their life to prove that belief. A lamp that goes out is no different from having no lamp at all.

Oil or fuel that can keep the lamp burning is what makes the difference between a lighted lamp and one that gets extinguished. A Christian life needs to be fueled by regular meditation of God’s word, prayer, Christian fellowship, acts of service and above all a daily submission to God so that denial and obedience characterize our lives. And when the oil abounds, the Christian remains oriented to the eternal, despite his worldly preoccupations.

And that ultimately is the difference between being wise and foolish.

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