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Accountablilty: The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

The sign posted by the staff of the photocopy center read as follows: "The lack of good planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." This cold truth affords little comfort to the procrastinator who needs to meet a deadline. When we find ourselves in a fix, all we want to think about is how to get out of the fix. Dwelling on our past improvidence or imprudence seems somehow irrelevant and unproductive.

Few Americans like to be held accountable for the past. As a people, we have traditionally looked to the future, believing it will be better and brighter than the past. Consequently, it does no good "to cry over spilt milk." What is important is "to cut your losses and let your profits run," "to get on with your life." This think-positive attitude has much to say for it, provided one can indeed admit the mistakes of the past, deal with their consequences, and accept responsibility for improving the future.

Procrastinators are among the most optimistic of people. They blithely assume no last-minute snags, illnesses, or emergencies will occur to ruin their good intentions to get things done just in time. The five girls in this parable who brought no extra oil for their lamps never imagined the bridegroom would be so late or that their friends would be so unwilling to share or that extra oil would be so difficult to buy. They optimistically assumed their good intentions to attend the wedding banquet would suffice.

Unfortunately, circumstances force these casual optimists to take responsibility for their lack of preparation. Their companions refuse to give them oil, and the bridegroom takes no compassion on them when they return later with lighted lamps. He leaves them out in the cold with nary so much as an "I'm sorry." Paul says, "Behold the goodness and the severity of God" (Romans 11:22). This parable deals with the severity of God toward those who are unprepared to meet their Maker.

Prudence was one of the four cardinal virtues of Antiquity, but the word "prudence" in modern English seems slightly quaint and passé. It is no longer a word we commonly use. Perhaps we could substitute "common sense" for "prudence," but that kind of sense is not so common. Neither do we like to use the words "sensible" or "wise" in everyday speech. They somehow suggest a stuffy righteousness that makes us uncomfortable.

The “Parable of the Ten Virgins,” which appears only in Matthew, comes late in the gospel, just two chapters before the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Chapters 24 and 25 are full of warnings about the end of time, about making good use of one's talents, about the differences between sheep and goats, about the need for vigilance, wisdom, and prudence.

After two thousand years of waiting for the Bridegroom, many Christians have become complacent and some have fallen asleep. Lamps are not shining brightly. Often, they are no longer even lit. We pursue our religious activities perfunctorily, showing little zeal for God and little anticipation of the Second Coming. We identify all too well with the church at Laodicea to whom Christ says, "You are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either cold or hot! Because you are neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

Jesus says, "Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" (Matthew 25 13). Be alert, be prepared, be wise, be prudent. When the Devil is a roaring lion, he may keep you awake, but when he lulls you into complacency or indifference, you become most vulnerable. God holds Christians accountable, not only for their present behavior but also for their duty to anticipate.


1.In the Bible, there exists a constant tension between God's free gift of grace and mankind's responsibility to respond to that grace by living right. How is it possible to depend on God for salvation, yet still be filled with zeal for good works?

2.Lack of preparation is only one form of spiritual foolishness. What other kinds can you think of? What exactly does it mean to be an imprudent Christian?

3.The doctrine about the end of time is called eschatology. Do you think the Christians you know are concerned or unconcerned about the return of Jesus? To what extent do you yourself have an eschatological outlook in that you think often about Christ's return and being prepared for his coming?

4.If you knew for sure that Jesus was coming again exactly four years from now, how would it affect your life and your daily activities?

5.How would you describe a person who is fully prepared to meet God? Have you known such people? What specifically does it mean to “prepare to meet your God”?

6.Do you believe Christians are less zealous today than in the distant past? What is it about Christianity that Christians are still willing to die for? What is it that Christians in general seem no longer willing to live or die for?


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 12, 2007 10:53 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Repentance: The Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-31).

The next post in this blog is Tolerance: The Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30).

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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