12 November 2017Matthew 25:1-13
“The bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” (v. 10)
Psalm: Psalm 70
This parable is one of a series by which Jesus responds to his disciples' request for information about his future coming and the end of the age; see Matthew 24:3. This one begins, like many parables in Matthew's Gospel, with the words, "The kingdom of heaven will be like this", meaning this is the way God's rule operates.
Parables illustrate a single truth, and in today's passage that is the importance of being always fully prepared because it will not be possible to know before the last moment that Jesus is coming again. However, because Jesus has previously likened himself to a bridegroom (Matthew 9:15) some Bible scholars interpret other details of the parable allegorically: for example seeing the lamp oil as the Holy Spirit. If we want to read more from the story than its obvious message of full preparedness then we are safer to limit ourselves to those features which have clear support in the broader teaching of Jesus. The shut door (verse 10) is a vivid symbol of the fact that a time of judgement comes beyond which there is no further appeal possible, even though a bolted door isn't really realistic in the story of a Middle Eastern village wedding! A bridegroom at that time might well be delayed by final haggling over the bride price before he could take the bride from her parents' home to his own for the banquet, and the bridegroom's delay (verse 5; compare Matthew 24:48; 25:19) is certainly relevant to the fact that by the time Matthew's Gospel was written Christians were surprised Jesus had not yet returned,
Neither "bridesmaids" nor the more literal "virgins" is equivalent to those terms in our culture today; young members and friends of the bridegroom's family are probably envisaged. The lamps would be oil-soaked rags on stick torches, which might burn for a quarter of an hour to light the processional way. The words "I do not know you" (v. 12) mean "I want nothing to do with you" (compare Matthew 7:21-23). The message summary in verse 13, "Keep awake therefore", is not meant literally, since all ten wedding attendants slept, but in their prior preparation some had been alert to the need to be ready at a moment's notice.
- In what circumstances have you regretted not being fully ready when it mattered?
- What do you feel about the response of the wise to the foolish when requested to share their oil (verses 8-9)?
- Today is Remembrance Sunday and we think of many whose lives ended tragically early, but having previously decided they were ready to make that sacrifice if necessary. How in peace-time can we be equally ready, whatever our age, should our life end suddenly?