Friday of week 21 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

Eschatological discourse (continued)

The second chapter of this discourse consists of three long parables, with all of which we are familiar.  They all have the common theme of preparation for the final coming of the Lord whenever that will be. Today’s reading is the parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids, literally, ‘virgins’.  The story reflects common wedding customs of the time.  The bridesmaids who attend on the bride are waiting for the bridegroom to come.   The time of his arrival is not known.  Perhaps it is his way of asserting his male authority from the very beginning of their marriage!  (Just as today it is the bride who asserts her last moments of freedom by coming late!) In the story there are 10 bridesmaids altogether.  Of these we are told five were “sensible” and the others were “foolish”.  The sensible girls all brought an extra supply of oil with them while the foolish ones only had their lamps. The lamps consisted of oil-soaked rags at the top of a pole and needed to have oil added every 15 minutes or so. The bridegroom was long in coming.  The implication is that he was taking much longer than expected.  In fact, he was so long in coming that the girls all fell asleep.  Suddenly, in the middle of the night, the call went up:  “The bridegroom is on his way!  Go out to meet him!” Immediately the girls got ready and trimmed their torches.  The charred edges had to be cut away and the rags soaked in more oil.  The foolish ones immediately realised they were running out of oil; quite a lot was needed for this kind of torch.  They ask their companions to share some of their oil.  These refused on the grounds that there was not enough to go round and none of them would have enough.  The foolish ones were told to go off and buy some more for themselves. However, while they were still away, the bridegroom arrived.  Those who were ready went into the marriage celebration with him and the doors were shut.  When the foolish girls finally arrived with their new supply of oil, they found the doors closed in their face.  They cried out: “Lord, Lord, open to us!”  But the bridegroom answered:  “I do not know you.” Again this is a parable warning us all to be ready when the Lord comes.  In the early Church, he had at first been expected to come in the very lifetime of the early Christians.  This belief is reflected in the First Letter to the Thessalonians (which is read at this time in Year I) and which is the earliest writing of the New Testament. But Jesus did not come and, by the time Matthew’s gospel appeared, people were beginning to realise that his coming could be in a more distant future.  It is in this context that today’s parable gives a warning.  If the Lord was not going to come soon, then some people might begin to take things easy and become lax in their living of the Gospel.  Today’s passage suggests that that is not a very wise way of behaving. The bridegroom may not have come when expected but he did come.  And, when he came, half of the group were not ready.  In other places, Jesus has warned that we do not know the day or the hour, for he will come like a thief in the night.  The only policy is constant readiness.  If we are not ready and he does come, then we may find the doors closed and hear what are perhaps the most chilling words in the whole Gospel: “I do not know you.” In John’s gospel Jesus says that, as the Shepherd, he knows his sheep and they know him.  Not to be known by Jesus means to have broken our relationship with him through sinful and loveless behaviour.   To be in that state when he comes is truly tragic.  The choice is ours; we have been given adequate warning. While the Gospel is speaking about the final or eschatological coming of Jesus as King and Lord, it would be very complacent of us to think that there are no signs of it happening in the near future.  That would put us in the same category as the foolish bridesmaids!  While the final coming may still be far off, our own rendezvous with the Lord can be at any time.  For all practical purposes, that is the time we have to prepare for. Just yesterday our newspapers in the city where I am writing this reported an unmarked police car going out of control in a crowded downtown area, killing two people and seriously injuring others.  You or I could have been one of those victims, young and in perfect health with a whole life before us.  But the Lord called. If it had been me, would I have had “oil in my lamp”?  That is, what would I be able to show the Lord in terms of Gospel-centred living?  Maybe we think the “sensible” girls in the story were selfish not to have shared their oil, but there are some things which we have to bring to the Lord on our own.  We cannot borrow the good life that someone else has led.  It is has to be totally ours. Clearly, the best way to prepare is not to think anxiously of the future but to concentrate on the here and now.  Let us learn to live totally in the present, to seek and find God there.  If we can do that, then all the rest will take care of itself.  And, whether the Groom arrives early or late, it will not matter.  Because he has been constantly part of my everyday life.  And, apart from the insurance that it gives, is it not by far the best way to spend our days?

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