The Five Selfish Virgins

Oil lamp and jugMy friend Joseph has a shop in Jerusalem that never fails to fascinate me.

OK, it’s actually Joseph who’s fascinating, but his shop acts like a magician’s bag of tricks, just waiting for the show to start.

When I take groups to Israel, our travelers love the free time we give them in Jerusalem, and there’s little better than hanging out at Joseph’s shop and listening to the stories.

Once, I saw a small jug and dared ask how much it was. It easily fit in my hand, and looked a little like a child’s toy. It was obviously old. Most things in Joseph’s shop date back to the time of the Bible. This jug, he told me, dated to the First Century. That’s when Jesus lived.

“How much would this cost?” I asked.

“Oh no, no!” Joseph said. “This oil jug goes with this oil lamp. They were found together, and they go together!”

I grimaced. Oil lamps from the time of Jesus are expensive!

Then Joseph proceeded to tell me a story that I already knew very well. There were 10 virgins, Jesus had said, who wanted to go to a wedding. Five were wise, and five were foolish. You can read it in Matthew 25.

“Joseph,” I interrupted, “I know this story.” What I wanted was a price, not a children’s Sunday school lesson!

“The foolish virgins took only their oil lamps as they waited for the wedding to start,” he said, ignoring my seminary education, “but the wise virgins took their lamps … and their oil jugs.

“This,” he said, holding up my little jug, “is an oil jug. And this is the lamp. It’s like a battery.”

And for the first time, I saw something. The lamp doesn’t hold a lot of oil. The jug doesn’t hold a lot of oil. When five girls wanted to borrow oil for their lamps? There simply wasn’t enough to share. When it comes to oil lamps and oil jugs, you only get enough for you.

The five girls who wouldn’t share weren’t selfish. They were benefiting from a wise choice they had made earlier in the day. And when the wedding came, they were allowed inside for the party while the five others were left in the dark.

Jesus was making a point in sharing this story, and Joseph had finally shown it to me. You’ve only got enough ability in you to make a decision about eternal life for you. You can’t make this call for anyone else. No one else can make it for you. You’ll either be wise or unwise when it comes to eternity, and the choice you make will be 100-percent your responsibility.

No one in the crowd objected to five “selfish” virgins. They knew the reality of small oil lamps and tiny jugs with the reserve supply. They got the point Jesus was making.

And thanks to another entertaining day in Jerusalem, so did I.