In order to introduce the parable of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus uses the familiar formula, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this,” only this time he says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” “Then” signals that he is telling the disciples how they must learn to live in the light of his death and resurrection.
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps to wait for the bridegroom. Five were wise and took with them extra oil for their lamps. Five were foolish and did not prepare ahead. The bridegroom was delayed, and the bridesmaids understandably became drowsy and went to sleep.
But late in the night the shout went out: “Look! Here is the bridegroom!” The bridesmaids arose and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish bridesmaids’ lamps had run out of oil. They asked the five who had brought extra oil to share their oil but they were denied because if they shared their oil it would mean that none of them would have light by the time the bridegroom arrived.
The foolish bridesmaids went to buy extra oil, but by the time they returned the bridegroom had come, the wedding banquet had begun, and the door was shut. The bridesmaids asked that the door be opened, but the bridegroom refused, saying that he did not know them. Jesus admonishes the disciples that they should “keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The parable of the bridesmaids, therefore, is at once an invitation to a celebration and a judgment against those who are unprepared. The wise bridesmaids rightly celebrate with the delayed groom because they had prepared for a long night of waiting.
The bridegroom arrived at an unexpected time. The foolish bridesmaids failed to understand that in a time when you are unsure of the time you are in it is all the more important to do what you have been taught to do. In the dark you must keep the lamps ready even if they are not able to overcome the darkness.