I was that foolish virgin. And all those around me were likewise.
We pick up the story in Jesus famous parable after the ten young women have fallen asleep waiting for the bridegroom to arrive:
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. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
No one enters the kingdom of heaven by slipping in the door with another party. The wise virgins, it is said, have oil for their lamps. The foolish ones have none, only what remains in the wick. Though all the lamps appear equally bright at the moment, only those with a reservoir of oil will remain lit.
This is a parable, of course, not advice about illumination. Why are the wise virgins admitted to the feast? Because they have oil in their lamps. They are persons transformed, fueled internally by the Holy Spirit. They have been born again. The foolish virgins have only the appearance, a light that once appeared bright, but is about to go out. “I do not know you,” says the doorkeeper at the wedding feast. These are people who have a profession of Christianity, maybe even some works to show for it. But the answer here is the same as Jesus’ prediction many chapters earlier:
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
“I never knew you.” I don’t recognize you. We have no relationship. When a person needs to have a document notarized, he or she goes to a notary public. Pretty much all of us have used, or at least know, a notary public. The point of having something notarized is that you sign the document in the presence of the notary, who knows you by sight. He or she vouches for your identity. They are effectively saying, “This person who signed here – they are who they claim to be, because I know them.”
Admittance to the Kingdom of God is not about having done enough works to buy a ticket. It’s about a relationship. Does Jesus know your face, or not? Are you someone he recognizes, or not?
I grew up going to a church in which the notion of being “born again” was never broached. It was tacitly assumed that if one was in the church, one was in the faith. Every person in that congregation, including myself, would have called me a Christian in good standing.
But we were all wrong. I was the foolish virgin. There was no anointing, no Holy Spirit, no regeneration, no oil for my lamp. I was spiritually dead. Had the bridegroom appeared in 1980, I would have rushed out to meet him, only to be icily shut out of the kingdom.
I am thankful that God had other plans.