Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Understanding biblical parables: The Ten Virgins

Biblical parables are a rich source of religious and ethical wisdom. Unfortunately, however, they take place in a cultural and historical context that can make them difficult for people in modern societies to understand. I have therefore decided to give you, my readers, the benefit of my extensive biblical knowledge (even vast knowledge, some might say, though others have suggested half-vast knowledge is a better description) and explain one of these parables every week.*

Jesus, of course, was the master parable teller, so this week we'll begin with one of the parables of Jesus, the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Sexy virgins -- yes, this caption is link bait
The parable

Jesus sez:
"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

"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.' But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came.

"'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'

"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." Matthew 25:1-13 NIV
The cultural context

This parable is difficult for the modern reader to understand, especially since nowadays foolish virgins are generally considered the best kind. However, placing it in the proper cultural context makes it easier.

In ancient times, bridegrooms were often late to their own weddings. When they were, they would blame everyone else. Typically, they would say things like, "It's my wedding. It's my day. It's supposed to be all about me." In fact, they even had television shows back then about the amusing bad behavior of bridegrooms. Or they would have if TV had been invented. So they just had guys sitting around living rooms telling stories. Although they didn't actually have living rooms either.

Anyway, bridegrooms in ancient times didn't care if they were late, even if it meant that virgins fell asleep and ran out of oil. But if you were late, they'd pretend they didn't even know you and lock you out and just generally be total dicks about it. "Oh my God," they'd say, "these people are ruining my wedding! Someone just tell them to go away before I faint!"

The Meaning of the parable

The wedding is Heaven and Jesus is the bridegroom. So the meaning of the parable is that if you're five minutes late to Heaven, Jesus is going to be a total dick about it and lock you out. Also, virgins should always carry plenty of lube just in case. Oil! I mean oil! For their lamps. Which is not in any way a euphemism.

*Until I get tired of doing it.
**This is not a euphemism.

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