The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids teaches us that God's promises aren't always fulfilled quickly, and warns us to be prepared to wait. In my mind, this lesson speaks to two particular situations:
- Prayers for healing.
- Predictions about Jesus' triumphant return.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says "A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (John 10:10 MSG). In the book of Revelation, John of Patmos sees a future where Eden is restored and the leaves of the tree of life are used for healing. We are told that "Never again will anything be cursed." (Revelation 22:1-5 MSG). From passages like these and others Scripture shows us a God that is interested in our total well-being. From passages like these and others, people find an endorsement for prayers and petitions for physical healing.
But if we consider these promises in light of today's parable it seems clear that even though our well-being (physical and otherwise) is central to God's plans, we can't be certain when we will receive this promised gift.
This uncertainty about God's timing would seem to inform our prayers and expectations. We may deeply desire that God immediately unplugs our arteries, and while it is not wrong to pray for this, we certainly can't expect that God's activity will correspond to our preferred timeline. ie don't cancel your surgery
We are wise to understand that in all that God does, God has God's own reasons. And we are wise to understand that while complete healing is promised, it often awaits us after the grave. Our prayers for ourselves and others beg for humility that seeks both God's will and God's provident timing.
While today's parable addresses our concerns for physical healing, it similarily speaks to our hopes for Christ's return and the full arrival of God's kingdom. Here the passage throws up caution flags to those who attempt to discern in the latest news coverage a clear indicator of the nearness of God's full reign. Countless groups even denominations have become convinced that they were living at the cusp of a new era. One after another they have proven themselves unwise interpreters of Scripture and poor judges of the current time.
This does not mean we should not be looking for Christ's final arrival, but it does temper any enthusiasm for us providing any advance notice of Christ's return. Jesus himself warns us: "But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows." (Matthew 24:36 MSG).
If we do our best to be prepared for the long-haul, even if his return catches us unawares (think of all those sleeping bridesmaids) we will discover that we are still ready to welcome him.