(for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost, November 9, 2014)
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13, NRSV).
Change is coming.
Jesus talks a lot about the future toward the end of the Gospel of Matthew. He is looking to the end of the age and speaks of it as a coming of the ‘Son of Man’. He tells stories highlighting the unexpected nature of the timing that will surround these cosmic events.
The parable above is one of these.
Jesus contrasts two groups of bridesmaids. One is entitled ‘wise’. The other ‘foolish’. It is an early indicator of who will be exemplified in the story. Imitate the wise!
There are a lot of similarities among these ten bridesmaids: they all gather to meet the bridegroom; they all carry lamps; the bridegroom’s timeframe is drawn out for them all; they are all awakened by the invitation to ‘come and meet’ their ‘Lord’.
But there is one key difference: the wise also brought oil; the foolish neglected to do so.
And so the story unfolds for these two groups very differently. The wise are found waiting and ready. The foolish, however, are at the dealers purchasing oil as the bridegroom arrives. Their late arrival seals their fate. They are left outside.
It seems harsh: the wise bridesmaids refusal to share; the closed door; the denial of any knowledge of the five fools.
But this is not a story told after the event. Jesus’ audience, and Matthew’s readers, live before the dramatic coming of the kingdom. It is a pre-warning. A giving of advanced notice. Listen and prepare well. There is no need for this to be a surprise.
And that is the very purpose of this story: that we might be ready and awake at the coming of heaven’s kingdom. Matthew’s narrator sums it up well: ‘Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour’.
We have been warned. Be ready!