The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids
In our Gospel reading this Sunday from Matthew (25:1-13), we are challenged to compare and contrast the behavior of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. As with the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus is encouraging us to emulate the behavior of the wise while eschewing the behavior of the foolish. The key question to ask ourselves is: which bridesmaid is representative of my life?
Key Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
At a basic level, the parable is a lesson in the importance of being prepared for the Day of the Lord. The foolish bridesmaids did not bring extra oil. They failed to plan for the possibility of a delay of the coming Bridegroom. The wise bridesmaids, however, provided themselves with an extra flask of oil, anticipating a worst-case situation. As a tool for self-examination, we might reflect on the threat to holiness of procrastination; or the human tendency to live for this life only rather than eternity; or the importance of short term costly sacrifice for long term security.
However, I would like to focus on another major theme in this parable: the issue of spiritual codependency. Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s faithlessness, sin, bad habits, immaturity, or irresponsibility. The wise (and spiritually healthy) person does not allow another person’s immaturity to drag him down into folly.
Here are the key verses (Matthew 25:7-8):
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘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.’
The foolish bridesmaids expected that the wise bridesmaids would give them some of their reserved oil. The foolish bridesmaids did not ask. They demanded. They did not take into account the grave damage which their demands would cause to their wise counterparts. Their only focus was on their own crisis caused by their own personal short-sightedness, laxness, and foolishness.
Many of us have people in our lives who make demands on us which might cause grave damage to our own relationship with God. No person has the right or authority to demand or prevent us from truly living under the Lordship of Jesus. He is the King.
Sadly, there are marriages, where one spouse demands of the other spouse that he or she give up the very things that lead to a vital and thriving Christian life such as, church participation, a ministry using the spouse’s spiritual gifts, or spiritual growth in study groups. Indeed, any relationship can become an occasion where one person sacrifices that which is precious to them in order to appease the self-centered demand of a foolish person.
A wise bridesmaid knows not to give away her precious oil reserves. In the parable, the wise bridesmaids refused to help the other bridesmaids by sharing their oil because to do so would jeopardize their own secure places at the wedding banquet. The wise refused to jeopardize their attainment of the prize of the Bridegroom and the banquet.
The key behavior in this parable is personal responsibility. Wise bridesmaids will not compromise their own place at the groom’s wedding banquet to help anyone who refuses to take personal responsibility for her own relationship with the Bridegroom. The wise bridesmaids establish boundaries. They say, “No”. They encourage the foolish to take responsibility for their own lives: “Go buy some for yourself!”
Learning to say “no” at the right time is healthy. So, when I allow a foolish bridesmaid to have some of my oil, not only does my apparent generosity not help them to become wise, it makes me as foolish as they are.
Ultimately, each person must be responsible for his or her own relationship with the Lord. Faith cannot be outsourced or delegated. No one can be or will be saved by riding on “coat tails” of another’s faith. One person’s faith cannot make up for another person’s lack of faith.
The idea of saying “no” to a fellow bridesmaid may seem a little harsh. Aren’t Christians supposed to share, give and sacrifice for others? After all, Jesus taught us to give to those who ask, to go the extra mile. Yes, that is true with respect to the material things of this world. But Jesus never asks his people to give away either their salvation or their personal relationship with God. Indeed, we Christians are actually forbidden to compromise or capitulate in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
So when another person asks us to give up the things of our faith in order to enable his or her lack of faith, the answer has to be “No”. The wise bridesmaids recognize that foolish bridesmaids do not take either the Bridegroom or the wedding banquet seriously. That is to their detriment– do not make it yours as well. The wise bridesmaids will not let anything or anyone prevent them from being a part of that heavenly banquet and their secure relationship with the Lord. Say “no” to the foolish person when a “yes” would cost you your soul.