This parable, found only in Matthew, combines homely detail with a tragic end.
The scene is familiar: a wedding feast with all its preparations. The high point is the bridal procession where the groom leads the bride from her father’s house to his own for the wedding ceremonies, and the feast to follow. The bridesmaids are part of the bridal party. As the wedding ceremonies were held at night, the bridal couple was accompanied by torches and lamps.
As the story goes, the bridegroom is late in coming, and tired with waiting the girls drop off to sleep. Even more unluckily for some of them, they haven’t checked their lamps to see if they have enough oil to last through the night. When the groom and his party do arrive, these girls are caught lacking. Their punishment? They are debarred from entering the marriage hall.
The point of the parable is both vigilance and foresight. Had they had foresight, the five girls would have checked their lamps and whatever else had to be prepared. Had they been vigilant, they would not have allowed themselves to be caught unawares by the bridegroom.
A simple metaphor, but it emphasizes the point of the last discourses of Jesus: The disciple must be ever watchful. “Keep awake, for you never know the day or the hour.”