I was thinking about the parable of the ten virgins recently and realized some things about it that I hadn’t thought of before.
The main thing the parable seems to hinge upon is whether each virgin has enough oil ready to use to light her lamp and keep it lit. At the beginning, they all think they have enough, but there comes a time that proves that half of the virgins really do not have enough, and the other half realize that they must draw on a reserve, but they do have enough.
The question that haunts us is, “How can I tell if I have enough oil?” Because when we get to the dark midnight, it will be too late to buy oil; we must have enough.
In the past, the oil has been interpreted to mean testimony, good works, faith, and so on. But how do you know if you have enough to get you through the dark times?
I suspect that this story is actually about grace. Because grace is that enabling power to do and maintain good works that we otherwise could not do on our own. It is the fuel we need beyond our own works. The testimony, the good works, the faith—all of that might be compared to the light of the lamps, but Christ’s grace is the fuel that keeps our light burning.
The wise virgins who had the extra oil are those who knew how to access the grace of God. They knew they weren’t enough on their own, so they accessed God’s grace through the atonement. They had plenty of practice doing this, and they were prepared. Counter-intuitively, those who know they are not enough on their own can turn to the Lord for grace and He becomes enough. His grace is sufficient.
The foolish women did not know how to access God’s grace, and when more was asked of them, they had nothing left to give. They didn’t know how they could go on. They would desperately ask others for strength, for something that could help them keep going. But grace has to come from God, not from other people. People can encourage and lighten burdens, but the power has to come from God.
So here’s where this parable can really help us today. We have daily experiences that stretch us, and each one is an opportunity to buy oil for our lamps and gain experience accessing the grace of God. Grace is the power we need, the fuel that keeps us going. Our testimony and our good works is the flame, the light we shine, but grace is the fuel.