Weekly Gospel Reflection - 06 November 2011
Matthew 25:1-13 (CEB): “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.
“When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’
“Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’
“But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.
“Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep alert because you don’t know the day or the hour.
In our study guide for this week, the writers went on and on about our needing to be faithful and patient as we await our Lord’s coming. And while I agree with those sentiments of faithfulness and patience, I disagree with their applications.
Let me be perfectly clear here: Contextually, this story has absolutely nothing to do with us. Beginning in Matthew 23, Jesus has been dealing the the religious oppostition of his day and tells them that they’re city and Temple will be judged and left desolate at the end of that chapter (Matthew 23.37-39; NLT). Chapter 24 is all about that coming judgment. And, chapter 25, has stories about the people who follow Jesus from the time of his ascension until the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70CE. Let’s break this story down a little bit.
Notice that the groom leaves a group of ‘young bridesmaids’. Next, the ‘groom was late’ in coming to the bridesmaids. But, and here’s the big key, the ‘groom’ does, in fact, return to the very bridesmaids he left - not some bridesmaids of the future (a couple of millenia now and counting). And, as if to drive the point home, Jesus tells the disciples, ‘Therefore [‘you’ - understood - j+] keep alert because you don’t know the day or the hour’ (verse 13). Notice, Jesus was talking to them about things that they would experience. In fact, Jesus used the personal pronoun ‘you’ over twenty times in the previous chapter! There would be no doubt in the minds of the disciples that Jesus was talking about things they would experience. And why wouldn’t he? They asked him about it in Matthew 24.3 (compare Mark 13.3-4; Luke 21.7). It would be incredible to think that Jesus would not answer their question(s) but actually talk about something that would be (at least) two thousand years in the future and they would never experience.
No. The context is clear. This story is about the delay of Jesus’ return to the disciples and how they should remain faithful and patient while they’re waiting.
Now, like I stated at the beginning, the message of faithfulness and patience is one we need to hear. I’ll even go so far to say that we can teach it from this passage. However, let’s not come up with some crazy idea (and teach it in our seminaries and parishes!) like the disciples were wrong about Jesus returning within their life time and, therefore, had to come up with a whole ‘church structure’ and make excuses for the delay. Rubbish! Poppycock! We’re the ones who got it wrong. The ‘coming’ that Jesus spoke of here (as well as what the apostles and early church taught and understood and lived) was the ‘coming’ of judgment upon Jerusalem and the Temple. If one holds this view when reading the imminent return passages, all of the hoops that interpreters and some scholars have to jump through soon pass away (pun intended).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC