November 9th Scripture Setting: Matthew 25: 1-13
The parable begins with 10 bridesmaids who took lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Their job was to escort him and the bride from her house to his house, where they would start their lives together. (You will note in your Bible that some ancient authorities add and the bride at the end of verse 1. The main text omitted it, perhaps to make a stronger symbolic point of Jesus being the bridegroom.) It was common for such processions to happen in the middle of the night. The bridesmaids did not know exactly when the couple would make the celebrated journey to their new home.
Half of the bridesmaids took lamps with no oil in them, which left them unprepared if the bridegroom should arrive during the night. The wise ones were prepared and brought along oil for their lamps. As everyone started to fall asleep—around midnight—the bridesmaids were alerted that the bridegroom was coming. Those without oil begged those with oil to share, but were told there would not be enough for everyone and those without oil should find a dealer to sell them some. While five went to search for oil, the bridegroom came and those who were prepared and waiting went with him to the wedding banquet. When the rest returned, Jesus did not recognize them, and admonished them to keep awake “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
This is a parable with rather clear, undisputed symbolism. The bridegroom is Jesus; the bridesmaids represent the church. The bridegroom’s arrival is the Second Coming of Christ (also known in Greek as the Parousia). Having oil represents what will be most important at the Parousia, deeds of love and mercy (see Matthew 25:31–46). Jewish traditions used oil as a symbol for good deeds, as well as representing the Torah, so this, too, would have been a familiar symbol to early Jews.
To summarize the symbolic meaning of this parable, we could say the church is called to be prepared for Christ coming again through responsible acts of love and mercy. This is not something that can be borrowed from someone else (like the unprepared bridesmaids trying to borrow oil); rather it is our responsibility to respond, for we know not when we will see Jesus again. We are called to be prepared by loving God and loving our neighbor. This cannot be done at the last minute. Rather it forms who we are and shapes our faith and how we understand God’s kingdom. This is what it means to “be ready.”
When something is important to us, we prepare. Imagine you are going on a much-
anticipated vacation. Do you get your airline tickets the day of the trip? Do you pack your things the morning you are going to leave? Do you not spend time thinking about what you are going to do, and the things you need to take with you? No, you take time to prepare. Do we take time to prepare ourselves for the coming of God’s kingdom? When we respond to the call to serve others—to demonstrate acts of love and mercy—we are preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the kingdom, to be able to see Christ again.
Worship Helps 11/9/2014)