As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

Matthew 25:5-8

Jesus tells his disciples a parable about bridesmaids who, while waiting for the bridegroom to return, start running out of oil for lamps. So let me ask you a question: Do you feel as though the oil in your lamp is running a little low these days? I know that I do. This has been a long, difficult year. And it’s not over yet. And I think that we are all running a little low on oil right now. Like those bridesmaids in the parable in this gospel reading. 

So, I don’t want to challenge you right now to be wise, or to be prepared, and to stay awake, for you know not the day or the hour when Jesus will return. Instead, I want to encourage all of you who, like me, find yourself a little short on oil, wondering if your lamp is getting ready to go out. 

In this parable, all ten bridesmaids were running low on oil. The wise and foolish alike. They all had that in common. They were all waiting for the bridegroom, but he was delayed. All ten of them were drowsy. All were weary of waiting. And the oil in all their lamps was running low. The wise and the foolish were all in the same boat, in that respect. 

When the bridegroom finally approached, the ten bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. And that was when they realized how low they were on oil. Five of the bridesmaids brought extra oil. The other five, the foolish ones, did not. And, as we know, the foolish arrived too late to go to the wedding banquet. 

The foolish bridesmaids clearly made a mistake. But what was their mistake? I don’t think that their mistake was running out of oil, because they did not bring extra. I think their mistake was leaving to go find more oil, just when the bridegroom finally appeared, and then missing his return. Instead of showing up to the banquet with their lamps empty, instead of trusting that the bridegroom would take them as they were, lamps glowing or not, they left to find more oil, and arrived too late. 

So, think about what that means for us. Again, I personally feel like my oil is running a little low right now. This has truly been a year like no other. And I am tired. And I am weary. And my lamp, in a manner of speaking, is definitely low on oil. Perhaps you feel the same way. If so, I invite you to look at this parable a little differently. Forget about whether you are foolish or wise. Don’t worry about how much oil you have, or how bright your lamp is. Focus on this one, simple thought: Are you still willing to wait a little longer, even with your lamp low on oil? Because that is really all that God wants from us, to not give up. To wait a little longer. 

And if our lamps are running low, not to think that this is the problem. Because God doesn’t care about how much oil we have. God cares about whether we are still willing to wait. Waiting is an act of faith, an act of trust. And that is really all that God ever wants from us. To trust. To trust God. 

I shared a story on my blog last week that is all about the importance of trusting God. It is a story of Henri Nouwen’s, who is one of my favorite writers. You can read it here: (Trust the Catcher) .

“Just stretch out your arms and hands,” Henri Nouwen tells us, “and trust, trust, trust.” That’s all that God really wants. For us to trust, trust, trust. Just stretch out our arms and hands and trust the Catcher. It’s not about how much oil we have. It never was. It’s about how much love God has. Which is always enough. And that love that God has for us means that heaven’s door is open to us, no matter how much oil we have. 

Love Precedes Them

There is a poem by Thomas J. O’Gorman about this parable that makes this same point in a wonderful way. Here it is:

Face to face with our limits,
Blinking before the frightful
Stare of our frailty,
Promise rises
Like a posse of clever maids
Who do not fear the dark
Because their readiness
Lights the search.
Their oil
Becomes the measure of their love,
Their ability to wait?
An indication of their
Capacity to trust and take a chance.
Without the caution or predictability
Of knowing day or hour,
They fall back on that only
Of which they can be sure:
Love precedes them;
Before it
No door will ever close.

Love precedes us, too. It’s not about how much oil we have, but about how much love our savior has. He didn’t go to shut us out, but to welcome us in. 

So, I simply want to remind us all not to give up on God. Wait. Watch. Hope. Even if your oil is getting low. And trust that because Love precedes us, the door to God’s grace and mercy and loving presence will never close.

Share What We Have

But there is one other piece to this parable that I want to lift up before you. And to do so, let me ask another question: What if the wise bridesmaids were willing to share their oil with the foolish ones? They were worried about running out of oil, but how much did they really need? And if they shared their oil, what little they had, couldn’t all ten have been welcomed to the banquet? 

And so, if we have just a little extra oil right now, shouldn’t we share it? Even if we feel like we are running low, and concerned with running out. We are invited to share what we have, and to trust that it will be enough. 

I know that we’re all running a little low on oil these days. Our lamps aren’t shining quite as bright as they were before this pandemic began. But we don’t have to light up the world. We just have to share the light of Christ. And the darker the world is, the less light that is needed to brighten things up. 

So let’s simply share what we have, of our faith and our hope and our love, in our corner of the world, and trust that it will be enough, trust that God will always provide what we need to share in the work of God’s kingdom. 

Closing – Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians

And as we do that, as we wait for the return of the bridegroom, and as we share with others, no matter how low the oil in our lamp is, let me close with one more piece of encouragement, from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:

The Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

This wonderful day is coming, when the Lord himself will return, and when we will meet him face to face, and we will be with the Lord forever. And when that day comes, there will be no more night, as we are reminded in Revelation 22; no need for the light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be our light. 

And we are invited to encourage one another with these words. To share our faith and our hope. To let our light shine, small as it might be. Not to hide our lamp under a basket, but to let our little light shine. 

We worship a good and loving God. We have an amazing Savior, who is not worried about whether our lamp is brightly lit, but only that we trust in him. So let’s keep encouraging one another, and let’s keep shining our little light, until that glorious day when the bridegroom returns. Amen

10 thoughts on “When the Oil in Our Lamps Is Low

  1. I love this different take on the parable. I tried imagining ten bridesmaids with cell phones, five with charges and five who forgot theirs. I try to never leave home without my charger, even if my phone is fully charged. Of course, I couldn’t quite make t he connection and decided to focus on the text from Joshua instead. Thank you for this wonderful reflection on the text. Michele

    Liked by 1 person

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