It’s not hard to tell that we are getting closer to the end of the church year. In fact, in a little more than four weeks’ time we will be celebrating the First Sunday in Advent. The Gospel readings for these last few weeks of the Season of Pentecost talk about what God’s judgement will be like. They talk about the separating of the faithful from the unfaithful. Matthew 25:1-13, which is known as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, emphasizes the important of being prepared for Christ’s return.
Jesus described preparations for a wedding. Weddings provided much needed relief from the humdrum and hard work of daily life. Usually women took care of children and performed household chores. They looked forward to any small distraction, such as their daily visit to the village well where they could visit with other village women.
But, occasionally, their tedium was broken by the great events of village life––weddings, births, and bar mitzvahs––even funerals. Of these, weddings involved the greatest celebration. At a wedding, the couple was the center of village life for days on end. After the marriage ceremony, there was feasting, dancing, and revelry, which could last for several days. For the couple, it was “the gladdest week in all their lives”. It was a glad week for their friends as well––an event not to be missed!
An important part of the wedding ceremony was the procession from the home of the bride’s parents to the couple’s new home. As the bridegroom escorted his bride to their new home, their pathway was lit by wedding guests holding aloft flaming torches, probably sticks wrapped with oily rags.
A wedding was a great joy for all the members of the community, but especially so for the young women invited to serve as the bride’s attendants. It was an honor to be asked to participate, and those who agreed were expected to do so enthusiastically and responsibly. The young women were expected to be ready, because the bridegroom’s coming signaled the beginning of a great and joyous festival––something that promised to be one of the highlights of these young women’s lives.
Many of you know what it is like to be prepared for something. If you lived on a farm, you prepared for the winter months. If you went on a trip, you had to prepare first. Some of you even prepared for the day when you would be in a nursing home. The most important thing we can do is to prepare for Christ’s return.
Matthew wrote his Gospel a half-century after the resurrection. He struggled with the issue of the delayed Second Coming. Many first-generation Christians believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, but by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, many years had passed since the Resurrection, and many Christians were beginning to wonder how long it would take for Jesus to return. In this series of parables, Matthew encouraged the church to maintain its vigil, even though the people were weary of maintaining an “alert status.”
In this parable, the oil represents the Holy Spirit. The foolish virgins are those who have not truly been saved. Believers can’t just impart the Holy Spirit (i.e. share the oil) to unbelievers. Each person must receive salvation for himself or herself before it’s too late. God’s judgment is unequivocal and irreversible. We can’t know Christian assurance without the Holy Spirit.
The bride in this parable is the church. In fact, the church is referred to in Scripture as “the bride of Christ.” Just like a bride and groom have to be ready for the wedding, the church as the bride of Christ has to be ready for him when he comes. As Christians we are part of the church, so we have to be ready for his return. We have to keep our lamps fed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. We must see that we are continually growing in the love of God and service to others.
What does it mean for us to keep our lamps fed? Being prepared––having oil––means working faithfully for the Lord. It means practicing good stewardship––good ecological practices––careful management of time and money––generosity to those in need––proclamation of the Word––the possibilities go on and on. Jesus makes it clear that he has expectations regarding our behavior––standards that we must take seriously––obedience to which we must aspire. In this parable, he also makes it clear that there is a time for repentance and a time when repentance will be too late.
We are called to be faithful to God and obey him. Being faithful is the meaning of waiting for the Lord to come. There will be no second chances when Christ returns. The Lord of the household-aka God-is not being rude when he denies entrance to the foolish virgins. He assumes those who really want to join in the festivities will come prepared. We must always be prepared for the Lord to return, because he could return at any time. We do not know the exact date and time when he will return, but we do know that Christ has promised great joy to those who are prepared for his return and grave consequences for those who are not prepared.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible Software package.
- Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 23: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2010)
- Exegesis for Matthew 25:1-13. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Pastor Dave Risendal, “Five of Them were Foolish, and Five Were Wise.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org