And the door was shut! That’s how the parable of the bridesmaids ends (Matthew 25:1-13). The five wise bridesmaids, with oil in their lamps, are welcomed into the wedding banquet. The five foolish ones, without oil to burn, are not. While they were off procuring the necessary oil, the door to the party is shut and the festivities begin without them. Having oil appears to be the “ticket” required for entry into the party. When the five foolish return, presumably with oil in hand, the door is not opened to them. Even when they pound on the door, begging to be allowed in, the door remains shut.
This detail in the story raises in important issue. Since the parable is full of symbolism, such that the bridegroom and host of the party is Christ, we are the bridesmaids, and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of heaven, does this story suggest that only some of us will enter the Kingdom while others will be refused access? That some of us are wise and some are foolish? It certainly appears so. After all, the door was shut. On the other hand, the parables of Jesus are symbolic for a reason and tend to underscore a primary point that supersedes the more minute details. In this case, the focus of the story is on readiness and preparedness. What makes the wise bridesmaids wise is not only that they have oil in their lamps, but that they ready and prepared to meet Christ when he came. Conversely, the foolish are foolish because they are not. In scripture, wisdom and folly have nothing to do with intellect, but rather are spiritual categories measuring how well we grasp the nature and purpose of faith. Being ready to receive Christ whenever he comes, is what matters most. The fact that the door was shut serves to underscore how important this readiness is.
With that in mind, we don’t know if the foolish bridesmaids are lost forever. Were the story to continue, there is no indication that if the bridesmaids came back the next day, they wouldn’t be granted admittance. The story only tells us that on this particular day they are not allowed in. Perhaps the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the banquet host would triumph tomorrow where today they are less visible. Such was the case with the bible’s second sin (after the original sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit)… Cain’s murder of Abel. In that story, the Lord requests an offering from both brothers. On the particular day in question God favored Abel’s over Cain’s. This caused Cain to respond with envy that took the form of a rage so great he ultimately killed his brother. But there was no indication in the words of God that on another day Cain’s offering wouldn’t also be received. Just that on that day, it wasn’t.
The bible presents us with stories that are complex in their ramifications. At least, the way we unpack them with our human minds and in our human context. I do not believe the primary thread woven through scripture is God’s desire to separate us into the “haves” (saved) and the “have nots” (the unsaved). That would be antithetical to God’s desire that the world be saved through Jesus (John 3:17). The decision of who will be “in” and who will be “out” at the end is ultimately up to God. Our concern is to accept the intention of Matthew 25:1-13, which is not to make a sweeping statement on the second coming or the number (or even ratio) of people who will be admitted into the kingdom when Christ returns. Rather, its concern is to underscore the importance of tending to our faith all the time – in an ongoing way, on a regular basis – and not becoming spiritually lazy and running to God with bargains and pleas in times of crisis. Such caring for our faith makes us wise and allows us to be a position to be invited into the kingdom whenever it arrives