Matthew 25 on “Being Prepared”
Bible Background: Matthew 24–25 are two chapters on the end of time and the future coming of Christ. Scenes of judgement abound. Matthew makes clear that “no one knows the day or the hour”, and that staying faithful while we wait is the challenge! Today’s parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids is not very ‘user-friendly’. But let’s dig deeper anyway!
Going deeper: 1. This parable needs to be read in its context in Matthew and its historical context: When Matthew is writing his gospel, around 75 AD, the temple has been destroyed; the followers of Jesus have been expecting his triumphant return, and it hasn’t happened! So there’s a necessity of gearing up one’s faith for the long haul. The ‘wise’ maidens seems to have done that by bringing extra oil for their lamps (the oil could well be a symbol for ‘faith’.)
2. We tend to presume that the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. We’d like to think of ourselves as the ‘wise’ maidens. Both analogies fall short. How? For one thing, when Jesus does come again in glory we expect that to be good news, not scary news, and not “Sorry, you’re outta luck”. And why do the ‘wise’ maidens refuse to share their extra oil? So much for Jesus’ teaching to “share your cloak and give them your coat as well!” For another, most of us are-at times-both foolish and wise; foolish in some things, wise in others. And in the final analysis, it’s not our preparedness that guarantees our salvation. It’s the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection that brings us into God’s kingdom now as well as for eternity!
3. The “keep awake” summary, which Matthew adds, misses the mark too. Neither the ‘wise’ nor the ‘foolish’ maidens stayed awake. It’s more of an admonition to “keep at it for the long haul”, “pay attention to the things that matter in God’s kingdom”, “do your part to keep and share the faith!”
4. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ teachings started with the Sermon on the Mount, and unusual words of blessings (the Beatitudes from last week), and the call to a radical trust in God and love for neighbor. That’s pretty much how Jesus’ teachings end up later in chapter 25, with the pronouncement of “as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me” in terms of feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus’ presence is surprising, even shocking! It’s in our faithful, everyday living and serving where we experience that.
5. See 2 Thessalonians 4:13f where Paul urges us to “encourage one another,” rather than worry that Christ’s promises might not hold up!