A long, long time ago, there was a different version of “The Bachelor.”
A father decided it was time for his son to be married. Unlike most parents, he had not arranged a marriage for his son when he was a toddler. The father was just enough of a romantic that he wanted his son to have the opportunity to fall in love. He wanted his son to have a choice.
Certain conventions, however, had to be observed. The bride would be selected from the family’s ancestral home. Ten of the most attractive unmarried girls would be presented to his son, the future groom, and he would pick one to marry.
Word was sent to the old hometown. Entertainment options were limited in those days, so the whole town was excited to see how this story would unfold. The parents of the unmarried women were excited, for the father was rich and could be expected to pay a large dowry – perhaps as much as 30 or 40 cows! The unmarried women were excited, because they knew all the eligible men in town – and had known them for years. The idea of a new man in town, from a rich family, was like a dream come true.
There were ten unmarried women total and they began their preparations. New clothes were sown. Expensive perfume, some costing a year’s wages, was purchased. Tips on how to be attractive were whispered among the women. Advice was given by mothers and fathers, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins.
A new message came: expect the groom-to-be to arrive on the evening of the next new moon. He would make his selection that night. There would be an elaborate banquet. Negotiations on dowry would follow and the wedding would held as soon as possible.
Once it was known the groom-to-be would arrive at night, every family realized the lighting was critical. Some of the women used small lamps, so their less attractive features could be hidden in the shadows. A few families gambled on their daughter’s charms and bought larger lamps so beautiful faces could be seen.
The day of the new moon arrived and the whole town seemed to spruce up for the arrival of the groom. The ten unmarried women spent the day bathing, dressing, rearranging their hair, getting last minute advice from their Moms and Dads, and trying to remain calm. In the late afternoon, the women gathered up their beauty paraphernalia and their lamps and made their way to the town square.
People milled around waiting for the town watchman to cry, “Here comes the groom.” With no moon, the stars sparkled like diamonds. In the darkness, lanterns were burning, but as time went on, people let the lanterns die out, saving their extra fuel for the wedding banquet.
Nine o’clock came and went. By ten-thirty, everyone was yawning. A few people gave up and went home to bed. People were laying on the grass of the town square, catching a few winks. One by one, the ten unmarried women dozed off.
It was midnight when the watchman finally cried out, “The groom is here! Everybody up! The groom is here.”
Everyone startled awake. The ten unmarried women grabbed their lanterns to light them, so they could see their last-minute beauty adjustments. Five of the unmarried women had packed some extra oil, just in case. Five of the unmarried women only brought the oil in the lamps.
The five unmarried women without oil said to the five unmarried women with oil, “Give us some oil! We don’t have enough to relight our lamps.” The five unmarried women with oil replied, “No way. If we give you some, we won’t have enough! Get your own oil!” They might have added, “We want the groom-to-be to see us! You are on your own!”
The five unmarried women without oil groaned. They knew this meant they would have to go to the oil dealer’s house, wake him up, plead for him to get them some more oil, pay extra, and hope they could make it back in time for the groom-to-be to pick them. Off they scurried.
Before they could make it back, however, the groom did arrive. The crowd gave him a great cheer. He looked at the unmarried women, grinned, and said, “This is going to be a hard decision! Come on, let’s go in to the banquet. I’m starved and I want to eat something as I make my decision.” In they went.
Five minutes after the door to the banquet room was closed, the five unmarried women came back with their extra oil. They banged on the door: “Let us in!” The groom-to-be was closest to the door. He went over and hollered back, “Who are you?” The reply came, “We are unmarried women who want to be in the contest! We want to marry you!” The groom-to-be looked at the crowd, rolled his eyes, and said, “I don’t think so! I didn’t see you when I arrived.”
The five unmarried women went away, devastated. Of the other group, one was picked to be the bride. The other four were depressed at not being chosen, but at least, they told themselves, they had a chance.
Jesus told a story a lot like this one. You might say the story sounds unfair. But Jesus told us the uncomfortable truth we all want to deny but we all know is true: Some opportunities are really once in a lifetime. So be prepared. Be prepared for Jesus to come and work in your life. Be prepared for his coming. Be prepared for the opportunities God gives you. No one knows when the opportunities will come. We only know they will come. Are you prepared?