The Parable of the Birdesmaids

Reverend Deacon Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 27 – Nov. 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

The Parable of the Bridesmaids

I come to you in the name of one holy and living God.

The Parable of the Bridesmaids

         In my late twenties and early thirties, I lived in the Northern Rocky Mountains in a town called Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  I taught at a boarding school for teenagers who had made some bad choices and who needed some time to get their lives back on track.  Here in this small, working town of maybe 500 lived a group of educators and counselors from all over the country.  The people who grew up in Bonners Ferry were predominantly hardworking loggers or farmers – they were people of the land – hardy as could be, comfortable to work in below freezing temperatures, and able to predict the coming of snow almost down to the day.  They didn’t have much time for us “city folks,” but they were never rude. 

         In the heart of our town was the Kootenai River – a fast moving, powerful river.  Gentle hillsides grew up on either side of the river and formed the town. They were decorated with older houses that had lived through many an Idaho Winter.  We basically lived in a soup bowl surrounded by the Rocky Mountains as they drove northward towards Canada. 

         I loved my time there.  It was totally different than anything I had ever experienced.  But life in the Northern Rockies was not joke.  Though we were surrounded by incredible beauty, the winters were nothing to laugh at. We spent a large portion of our Summer and all of the Fall gathering and chopping wood and preparing our houses for the coming of Winter.  It became a part of who were.  After a few years, I could feel within my bones the need to start collecting wood and preparing.  It almost felt like a spiritual practice – a deep tie to the Earth  - a knowing of what was to come and how to prepare. 

         I wasn’t alone though.  Everyone fell into a similar rhythm.  Locals and those who had moved there to live.  That group of educators and counselors who I worked with – we kept an eye on each other.  We all lived in those older homes around Bonners Ferry – the homes whose windows whistled a bit when the wind blew…whose insulation kept out most of the drafts but not all…whose primary heat was old woodstoves that burned brightly all Winter long.  One of my favorite traditions of our community was to go to each other’s homes and prepare them for winter.  We’d bring yards of plastic sheet to cover those whistling windows and work together to insure our homes and families would be protected from the cold.  We’d make sure everyone had enough wood for the winter, and we’d celebrate when the work was done.  No one had to go it alone – we were all there for one another – we shared what we had and we shared in the work making what could have been a long, arduous task…simple and one filled with laughter and happy memories.

         In today’s parable there is also a task at hand – the task of faithfully waiting for the bridegroom.  As we heard – 10 bridesmaids with their lamps await the arrival of the bridegroom.  When the bridegroom arrives – very late, 5 of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and ask the others to share their extra oil.  Basically being told “No” by the others, they leave in search of more oil. When they return, the doors are shut; they are refused entry, and the bridegroom reprimands them for not being properly prepared.

         Often this story is called, The Parable of the Foolish Bridesmaids.  Though a single parable can have multiple interpretations, this particular one is often thought to be about preparing oneself for the second coming of Jesus.  Some view the bridegroom to be Jesus – the bridesmaids as the faithful community of followers  - and the bride, who is oddly absent in the story, to be the world.  The “wise bridesmaids” have been described as the Christians who have stayed faithful and prepared for the long awaited moment of Jesus’s return.   The “foolish bridesmaids” have been described as those Christians who at first believed but over time grew tired and have lost sight of Jesus.  It’s a parable that has allowed preachers or teachers to emphasize the importance of staying alert – saying your prayers – and remaining faithful to God and to Jesus while waiting and being prepared.

         In my studying of this parable, I was relieved to read how some scholars totally disagree with that viewpoint.  I don’t know about you, but this is not an easy story to hear.  It seems disturbing and to go against Jesus’s central message of radical inclusiveness and compassion.[1]  Throughout the Gospels, we continue to hear Jesus tell us who the truly “wise” are.  They are the people who fed the poor, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and cared for the sick and suffering.  Though being prepared is important in life, Jesus would not have turned away those who had been faithful.  

         And what about the actions of the “wise” bridesmaids?  Yes, they were those folks who thought through what they may need for this journey and came prepared.  After their long night of waiting, their lamps still shone brightly, because they had brought extra oil.  They were so smart that night, but how come they wouldn’t share their oil?  Would it have hurt them to share a portion of their oil so that everyone had the opportunity to greet the bridegroom? 

         Did they have to make the “foolish” ones feel more anxious about their lamps going out by refusing to share?  How is that behavior reflective of Jesus’ message of love and compassion?   They had shown up.  They had faithfully stayed the long night waiting for bridegroom…but in that moment of arrival, they are found lacking somehow and when they turned to another for support, they were denied. 

         All Fall long, we have been listening to and reading parables from the Bible.  They have ranged from sons being asked to work in their family’s field to tenants who killed the son of the landowner and refused to give the harvest that was due to bridesmaids who were made to wait a very long time for the arrival of the bridegroom and how some of their lamps ran out of oil. I think we might all agree that each story we heard had details that were odd or confusing.  We might also agree that every parable has multiple interpretations and that one’s life history influences how one may interpret the story being heard.

         As I looked back through the parables we’ve been hearing, I saw a common thread.  The obvious one is God – but the one that stood out to me was relationships.  They all spoke to me of how God asks for us each to be in relationship with God, and God asks us to be in relationship with one another.  It is through those relationships – those connections with others that we find love - acceptance - frustration at times - joy – heartache - help - community.  It is through those connections we find that we’re not alone.  When our lamp runs out of oil, we know we have a community to turn to  - a community who either stands in the darkness with us and support us or who may have extra oil to share. 

         Next Sunday, we won’t worship here at Messiah.  We will have Morning Prayer at The Atlee House followed by breaking up into teams and going out into the community to care for others.  Winter is coming – we all felt it this weekend.  There are people who need some help.  We will work together to prepare their homes for the winter months ahead.  We will share our time – our love – and our oil with them.  We will care for them – not because we are Christians who are supposed to as we wait for the return of Jesus, but because we care.  We each know what love feels like – we each know what if feels like to be a part of a wonderful, life-giving community, and we want to share that with others. 

         So, please join us.  Please come to Morning Prayer at 9:15 next week for worship and then join in the work God has called us to do – to share in Jesus’ message of radical inclusiveness and compassion and let’s get some homes ready for Winter.


[1] David Henson, Edges of Faith,

Go to top