Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Engaging the Parable of the Ten Maidens in Contemporary Terms
See (and please read) Matthew 25:1-13
(I was inspired by a real-life story of Afghan young women scientists and a robotics competition held in the United States a couple of years ago; in essence, however, their story is nothing like the one I have written.)
I tell this story from Matthew with hope that it will appeal to all ages, but especially to children, and will elicit good discussion, in this case, discussion about 1) loving one another in community; 2) making good choices; 3) preparation for life events as ways of showing love to one another; 4) and patience in waiting. The results of not loving one another, not making good choices, and not being prepared and patient are disappointment, division, heartache, and even expulsion from the community. The ten girls in this contemporary story have community support for their tasks. Five remain faithful to the tasks before them; five do not.
The Ten Girls
Their girlish hearts were aflutter -- ten high school students whose dream was coming true. Their choral teacher had received a letter inviting the students to take part in a world-wide music festival and competition.
Five of the girls played musical instruments, composed music, and sang. The other five were chosen for their strong voices that contributed volume to the choral music performance the group would offer in the festival competition.
There were chances not just for hundreds of dollars in prize money; but also for possible scholarship offers. Most of all, attendance at the festival would be an opportunity to bring honor to their country and their school and their teacher.
The girls were Afghan. For all of their lives they had lived surrounded by violence and by military power in the streets and on the country roads. They had grown up knowing about war and death. Most of them had experienced the death of a family member. Music was the beauty in their lives. Their teacher gave abundantly of her time and gifts of music to her students. She inspired in them an understanding of the power of music to transform lives and to cross boundaries; to speak peace and reconciliation without using words or knowing another's language.
This competition would be an opportunity to show the world a different side of the country known for its war-torn landscape. They hoped to shine a light for the world to see -- through their music -- the beautiful hearts of their people.
Making a video of one of their performances had been exciting enough. Then the video was sent by Internet to the competition panel. Three months passed before the school received notice from the festival: We happily invite your school to send a team of musicians to the festival!
The teacher informed the ten girls who had performed on the video that all ten were invited to attend and perform. She provided lists of things the girls would have to do in order to prepare for the trip and then for the competition. A friend of the school offered to make the special crates in which musical instruments might make the long trip from Afghanistan to Washington, D.C. Another friend helped the families with all the paperwork required for obtaining passports and other documents the travelers would need.
They would be away for two weeks and would need to prepare for those days away. Plans moved smoothly along. Soon, it was time for the girls and their teacher and other chaperones to go to the airport for the first leg of the trip. They gathered at the airport and excitedly talked about the adventure lying ahead of them. The trip would be made in three legs, the final one being a flight from Rome to their destination in Washington.
Once settled in the hotel where they would remain for the next two weeks, the girls and their adult supervisors went to the city center where activities would take place during the festival. The huge complex of buildings included many rehearsal halls, facilities for taping music, places for resting and relaxing, dressing rooms, and performance stages.
The ten young musicians were awe-struck by the size of the city center and by the modern facilities they were invited to use. The five girls with the strong voices kept company with one another most days. They did not take part in instrumental competition nor did they compete in original composition contests. With a little time to think about the city outside the walls of the places they had seen so far -- the hotel and the place where the festival would be held -- they wondered together about getting to see the real world of the city surrounding them.
On the afternoon of the big dress rehearsal for all people attending and competing in the festival, the five girls with the strong voices had decided to go into the city without first getting permission. They knew their own rehearsal would be much later in the day. They thought that they would be back in plenty of time. But they were not. Further, they missed a meeting with their teacher, who distributed important instructions about the day's activities and the next day's schedule, as well.
The five girls with the strong voices went into the city, walking to some of the monuments and other places shown on a map that they found in the hotel. The time passed more quickly than they realized. They looked at the map and tried to figure out where they were. It was dusk. They could not identify landmarks very well. And they were afraid to talk to other people. Off they went -- hoping that they were going the right way. They were not. Finally, they stopped to seek help. As their circumstances began to become clear to them, they realized just how far off they had gone; they knew that they would be late for the dress rehearsal.
With directions that made sense to them, they headed in the right way and made it to the performance hall soon after their school was scheduled to perform the choral piece that would be their performance centerpiece. The doors to the hall were locked. The guards at the doors explained to the girls that the competition was so sensitive that everyone involved would be required to arrive with credentials three hours before any rehearsals began so that all papers could be checked. That detail had been delivered to the others while the five touring girls were away.
They were not allowed to enter the building. They sat on the sidewalk outside the city center and hoped they could see their group when they came out after the event ended. There they came. The five girls who had rehearsed with all the groups from around the world were sad that the other five had missed the dress rehearsal. The girls had missed the strong voices of the five absent musicians. They would have made a difference in the choral section of the performances.
"We'll make it up to you tomorrow," the girls said to their friends. "We'll really sing the best we've ever sung."
But the teacher walked up with a sad look on her face. "I'm so sorry. The rules are very clear. You will not be able to perform tomorrow night. Only those who performed during the dress rehearsal will be allowed on the stage tomorrow."
The event took place the next evening. The five girls, missing their five friends who could not be there, nevertheless performed flawlessly. Awards, scholarship offers, and invitations to perform in other countries of the world began to pour into the school's email account. Only five were included in the awards and scholarship offers. Only five were invited to new countries to perform. The closed door remained shut for the five girls with the strong voices.