Meditation of the week

A reminder to be wise

Matthew 25,1-13.

This parable, found only in Matthew’s gospel, occurs in the centre of Jesus’ fifth and final discourse, which is concerned about being prepared for the coming of the kingdom and the final judgement. (Chs 24-25).

In the parable immediately preceding this one, (Mt 24,45-51), the evil servant, knowing his master will be delayed, proceeds to ill- treat his fellow- servants. In this Parable an unexpected delay causes the problems for the foolish virgins.

The delay of the bridegroom is central to the story. One explanations offered for the bridegroom’s delay till midnight is a lengthy and hard bargain about the dowry due to the father of the bride for his daughter. It would be a compliment to her to be so highly prized by her father, and to the groom for his perceptive choice of such a highly cherished bride.

Night time is used in texts relating to coming of the end -times (Lk, 12,20), and midnight especially, as here, and in (Mk 13,35-36).   Midnight was ominous, as indeed was the cry that went up.

In the second part of the story the foolish virgins are mentioned before the wise. Their foolishness is shown in their not bringing oil with their lamps. The wise do not give a definite refusal but recommend a course of action.  They give a prudent reason for not sharing their oil. They cannot take the risk of not being able to do the job – escorting the bridegroom- they are there to do.   “Those who were ready,” escorted the bridegroom to the wedding hall.

Like the improperly dressed wedding guest (Mt 22,1-14) the foolish bridesmaids are excluded from the wedding feast.  Those who “were ready” went in (V10), in contrast with “the other bridesmaids” (V11), who were unprepared, and who arrived too late at the wedding feast.

The concluding admonition arising from the parable — “So, stay awake” does not fit well with the story since all the bridesmaids fell asleep.  An admonition to be “Be prepared” would seem more logical.

The parable emphasises the importance of being prepared for the coming of the kingdom or the end of the world, when the Lord will come to judge the whole world. He will come for each of us when we die.   The wise virgins were wise because they were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The oil in their lamps were good works. “Let your light shine in the sight of people so that seeing your good works they may give praise to your Father in heaven. (Mt 5,16).

The good works that we shall be judged on are how much we have loved God and our neighbour.  How other-centred and how God-centred our life has been rather than how self-centred it was. Wisdom is a gift which enables us to recognise the things which matter in life, and give them priority.

In November when the days are shortening and the year is nearing its end we are encouraged  by the Church to reflect on these as  metaphors for the  shortness of human life and the finality of death and judgement.   We are reminded in this parable to be wise and to be ready for the bridegroom, Jesus, when he comes, so that he will recognise our voice and admit us to the wedding feast of the kingdom of God.   How does the Last Judgement at the end of your life influence the way you live in the present?

Father Geoff O’Grady