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32 OT A ~ "Maybe it's Not About the Oil" Susan McGurgan, DMin.

As wedding stories go,

this particular wedding story

is not what you would call,


It's frustrating,

and even a little, well...


At first glance,

(even at second glance)

there doesn’t appear to be much


or grace

or bridal joy

surrounding this event.

There is a wedding feast in progress,

but no groom,

(and for that matter, no bride, either.)

The groom is late,

and ten women,

whose sole responsibility

is lighting the way

and escorting the groom,

fall asleep on the job.

Five women anticipated a glitch

and brought extra oil

but refuse to share even a drop

with their less organized sisters.

Clearly girl code

was not operational here.

And, there doesn't appear to be

a creative thinker in the crowd

capable of distributing 5 lights

among 10 women.

And the guy at the center of the action?

The groom who shows up


to his own wedding


rather than praises the enterprising women

who managed to beg, borrow, or steal

new oil at midnight.

(no small feat!)

He not only rejects them,

he bars the door for good measure,

and flatly claims,

“I do not know you.”

Clearly, in Biblical times,

just as in modern day Cincinnati,

being a bridesmaid

isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Jesus ends this story by

cautioning his listeners to

Stay awake”

because “you know neither the day

nor the hour.”

The Greek verb used here

may also be translated,

“Be vigilant.

Stay watchful.

Be attentive.

Remain focused.”

If being vigilant,


and attentive is the key

then not just five,

but all ten virgins


and fail miserably.

They all fell asleep.


five women made contingency plans

and packed extra oil,

but I wonder if maybe

this isn’t about the oil at all.

After all,

at the end of the day,

there was plenty of oil to go around,

yet the door remained shut.

Running out of oil is not the problem.

The oil is only the means to an end.

Nor does it seem that falling asleep

was an issue.

They all fell asleep.

And if we are human,

we will all eventually fall asleep too,

no matter how much

we might try to stay alert and vigilant.

We could argue that

this story is like an

emergency broadcast warning,

an advisory

reminding us to be prepared—

kind of like the iconic

“duck and cover” filmstrips

that defined an Atomic Age childhood.

After all,

the Kingdom needs laborers who are





The Kingdom needs people

who can make a good contingency plan,

who know how to duck and cover,

who are enterprising enough

to scrounge oil at midnight.

But maybe this isn’t a cautionary tale

about poor planning,

or a warning against

falling asleep on the job.

Maybe it's not about oil at all.

In other words,

maybe the women's oil

really didn’t matter,

but the women's presence



in their zeal to be




in their drive to be

"perfect bridesmaids,"

they lost focus

and made their job about the oil

rather than the Groom.

Perhaps they were foolish,

not because they didn’t bring enough oil,

not because they fell asleep,

but because each of them,

the "wise"

and the "foolish"

thought that the practical task

of bringing or acquiring enough oil

was more important

than the life-giving encounter

with the Bridegroom.

We know that Jesus,

the Bridegroom,

will come again at the end of earthly time.

And sometimes,

we get caught up in trying to calculate

just when that end will come.

There is a thriving



lucrative cottage industry

devoted to decoding cryptic passages,

sifting scripture for symbolic imagery,

inserting world events into a prophetic time-table,

and calculating the date of the End of Days.


Jesus says clearly

this is a waste of time.

About that day and hour no one knows,

Neither the angels of heaven, nor the son,

but only the Father. (MT 24:26)

At the other end of the spectrum,

we often conveniently “forget”

that Jesus will actually return again--

forget that this world is not our final home,

forget that God's time is not our time,

forget that we live beyond today.

But how we wait for the Bridegroom

matters as much as

when and why we wait.

In the Gospel of Matthew,

we read that feeding the hungry

giving water to the thirsty,

welcoming the stranger,

clothing the naked,

visiting the imprisoned,

is not only doing the will of the Father,

it is directly serving Christ himself.

Whatever you did

for one of these least of mine,

you did for me.’ (MT 25:40)

And at the end of the Gospel,

we are sent out in mission—

Go, therefore,

and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father,

and of the Son,

and of the holy Spirit.” (MT 28:19-20)

So, while we are waiting for the Bridegroom,

we have plenty of work to do—

lamps to fill,

light to shine in dark places,

hungry people to feed,

broken people to visit


and embrace.

We have praise to offer,

Bread to bless and share.

Wake up and open your eyes!

Maybe it’s not really about the oil.

Maybe it is about Encountering the Bridegroom

along the path to the Feast.

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