Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 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, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Please read the passage a couple of times. What words or phrases stand out in your mind? What questions do you have? Imagine you are in the story. Who do you relate to? Imagine waiting for the bridegroom to come and falling asleep then waking with a start when you hear the shout. Perhaps for a moment you don’t know where you are. You jump up to light your lamp. Are you one of the young women who has extra oil for your lamp or have you forgotten to bring some?
Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp I pray. Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day. What is this oil that we sing about?
As Christians, when we speak of having oil in our lamp, I suggest that we are not speaking about something external to us, something we carry with us, but something within us. We have with us some oil for the journey. We have some oil so that the flame may light our way. We have a light so that we can see our way in the darkness of this world.
In the Bible oil is symbolic of a number of things. In this parable the oil could be symbolic of wisdom. One could say that the wise or prudent young women had oil, they had the wisdom, and the other young women did not have wisdom. All Jesus’ parables are about seeking this wisdom (the wisdom of the kingdom of heaven) in our lives and letting this wisdom be a light that shows us a way forward, a wisdom that enables us to discern our path through the darkness of life.
Theologian and liturgical writer, Aelred Rosser says: “Wisdom is that elusive attribute that enables us to see beyond the surface of things into their depths, to see as God sees, and therefore to see God.” With wisdom one is able to see beyond human thinking, to be able to see as God sees, to even see God. I wonder what he means by seeing God. Does he mean seeing God in all things, in all places? Does he mean having a heightened awareness of God’s presence all around us? Does he mean seeing God in a way that does not necessarily require physical sight? Does he mean that we see God where previously we did not recognise God? Perhaps we have been looking for God in certain places but with wisdom we begin to notice Go (or what we name as God) in unexpected places, in ordinary places as well as in extraordinary places, in good times as well as bad times.
Wisdom is seeing God. Wisdom enables the eyes of the heart to see, one could say wisdom is the eyes of the heart seeing. Wisdom does not mean that we know everything, but it enables us to see in this dark world, to negotiate the darkness, to go forward to meet our coming God.
Wisdom is different to knowledge. With knowledge one can know about something or know about someone. But wisdom is gained through relationship. In the Wisdom of Solomon 9 (A book between the Old and New Testaments) wisdom is presented as a person, a woman. In chapter 6:12,13 it says - Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who seek her.
The wise seek wisdom. Wisdom is not a thing, rather wisdom is a way of seeing which comes from being in relationship with the mystery we call God. We find our own wisdom. We can learn how to find wisdom from others but they cannot give us wisdom. Nor can we share our wisdom with others. Perhaps this is why in the parable the young women could not share their oil with the others. It was impossible. We have to get our own oil to light our way so that we can go to meet the bridegroom when he comes.
Prayer: (you may like to sing or read this hymn as a prayer a few times)
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, your great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, nor wanting, nor wasting, but ruling in might; your justice like mountains high soaring above, your clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
You give life to all, Lord, to both great and small, in all life now living, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on a tree, then wither: but ever unchanged you will be.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light, your angels adore you, all veiling their sight; of all your rich graces this grace, Lord, impart-- take the veil from our faces, the veil from our heart.
All praise we would render: reveal to our sight what hides you is only the splendour of light; and so let your glory, Almighty, impart, through Christ in the story, your Christ to the heart. Amen.
Photo: Lough Hyne, West Cork, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation