To Be Wise
Six students in my class were preparing for an upcoming exam. I had given them the information they were accountable for, I had reinforced the learning from the material through assignments and homework. Three of the students formed a study group and for the week prior to the exam, they re-read the materials and quizzed one another so that they would be prepared for the test. The other three were preoccupied with training for sports, maintaining a social life, and working part time, and so their study time was minimal.
The day of the test, the group that had studied regularly perused their notes in the hours leading up to the exam—they were anxious but well-prepared.
On that same day, the second group crammed for the test in the few hours left.
In the minutes before class began, the three who had been cramming at the last minute begged the other students to give them a crash course on the materials, but the wise students refused, focusing instead on their own final preparations.
When I began passing out the exams, the three who had tried to cram at the last minute asked, “Is there any way we could continue cramming for thirty minutes before we get the exam?”
I told them that that would be fine, as long as they were quiet, and they took the opportunity to continue their reviews.
After half an hour of cramming, each of the three students returned from the library, received his copy of the exam, and began furiously writing.
About fifteen minutes later, 45 minutes into the class, the three other students who had started on time put down their pencils, submitted their exams, and proceeded to dig into the cheesecake and other goodies I had brought in to reward them for their work.
The three students who were enjoying the treats were happy and relieved to have the exam completed, but the other three were so worked up that goodies were the last things on their minds. And although all three managed to complete the exam in the required time, their scores were not great and they didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the goodies that were already packed up by the time they were done.
If only they had been ready at the right time, they would have been able to enjoy both a high score on the test and the treats I had brought in for them.
In this retelling of the parable of the Ten Virgins, I have attempted to strip it down to its basic point: Be ready for the day !, but I have also expanded on parts of it to challenge us in our thinking. Let’s take a look at the particulars of the story to learn more about God’s plan for preparing us for the day of Jesus’ return and for each day leading up to it.
In the original parable, it is unclear what the oil or the lamps represent. In my retelling, the course material takes the place of the oil and lamps—they are things that are imparted to the students and which are reinforced through their daily work and assignments. The point here is that the learning is a gift given to the students for which they are responsible to test, approve, and use to connect to their knowledge bases.
Notice that the students who do not study as hard as the others are still involving themselves in the assignments and are passively absorbing the content of the course, but they are not applying themselves to their studies beyond the minimal expectations. Instead, they are filling their extra time with sports, socializing, and even working part time to keep up a fuller-rounder life under the stress of college. In my retelling, these students are admirable and I would even be proud to call them my students. They are hard-working, diligent, and responsible—just like their three more studious classmates. The criticism implicit in the story then is not that the three who are less prepared are “bad people,” but rather that their priorities are not ordered correctly. They have what they need, but they don’t complete their appropriate task of studying on time, and so they lose out on the goodies and their performance is lacking.
Of course, you or I could argue that the other three more focused students were those who were lacking as they spent so much of their time preparing that they didn’t have time to enjoy the other things in life. You could call them nerds … and that would be appropriate in the context, but the Bible’s parable would encourage you to call them “wise” instead.
We may look at the three as somehow having missed out on some of the better things in day-to-day life, but we have no right to judge them on our own terms, and in fact, God shows us that He judges them to be worthy of receiving His kingdom. They have sought to be prepared for the most important event of their lives (until the next test for my students), and from God’s perspective, that most important event is the coming of His Son. The five virgins are not considered wise because they have a good life, or because they will not help the poorer students cram, or because they are cut from the same cloth as their professor, but solely because they have sought the one thing that was most needful, and their reward goes with them.
Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha the day that Jesus and His followers visit them in Bethany? Martha is all abustle about making sure that the hospitality is up to snuff for the occasion—a tremendously important duty and task in that culture. But Mary contents herself to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teachings. By any objective measure in their culture, Mary is the one who is not fulfilling her part—no one would fault Martha in being peeved that her sister is slacking in her duties. But Jesus commends Mary because she is doing the most important thing she can do when Jesus is present—taking in all of the wisdom of God and allowing her soul and mind to be prepared for that Last Day.
It may not seem fair or right to reward those whose singular focus is on God and His plans for our lives, but who here is willing to judge how another person should best spend his or her time? To be truly wise, we must each direct our days and our wills to the one thing most needful each day, and let God direct us from there. You never know how many goodies God has waiting for you when your preparations each day are complete. So let’s let God’s Word tell us what is good and right to do, and He will direct our ways from there. Amen.