Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Faith and Example
Have you ever taken faith for granted? Has that complacent attitude led to trouble?
Either it grows or it dies. Faith, like many other things in our transient world, requires constant care. If we feed faith with prayer and service to others, it will grow. If we exercise faith only at certain times, in certain places, and under certain circumstances, we will only have a veneer of religious practice. If we only pay lip service to faith, we will only have the breathe we expended to hold onto a relationships with God. Because faith is trust in a God that lives within us, it moves and breathes and grows as we live.
In the parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus equated feeding faith with being alert, waiting for the coming of the Christ.
Jesus told his followers:
1 The kingdom of heaven is like this story. Ten girls took their oil lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom at night. 2-4 Five of them were careless, because they didn't bring extra oil. But the other five thought ahead since they carried more oil in containers. 5 Since the bridegroom took his time, all the girls got tired and fell asleep. 6 Late that night, there was an announcement. "The bridegroom is here! Go meet him!" 7 The girls got up and turned up their lamps. 8 The careless girls said to the girls who had extra oil, "Give us some of you oil because our lamps are going out." 9 "We don't have enough to share," they answered. "Go to the store and buy more oil." 10 While they were at the store, the bridegroom arrived. The girls who were ready went with him to the wedding party. And the doors were closed. 11 When other girls arrived later at the party, they said, "Sir, open the door for us." 12 " No! " answered the bridegroom. "I don't know who you are." 13 Be prepared! You don't know when the Kingdom will come.
Jesus told his disciples the following parable:
1 "Then, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to ten unmarried girls who, having taken their own lamps, went out to a meeting (with) the bridegroom. 2 Five of them, however, were foolish and five were wise. 3 For the foolish girls, having taken their lamps, did not take (extra) oil with them. 4 But the wise took (additional) oil in containers with their lamps. 5 But, when the bridegroom took his time, all the girls became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 In the middle of the night, the cry was heard: "Look! The bridegroom! Come out to a meeting (with him)" 7 Then, all the unmarried girls got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 So, the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out." 9 But the wise answered, "No. There might not be enough for us and for you. Go, instead, to the oil dealers and buy it for yourselves." 10 While they went, however, to buy (oil), the bridegroom and those ready went with him into the wedding (hall) and the door was closed. 11 Later, however, the remaining unmarried girls arrived, saying, "Lord, Lord! Open up for us!" 12 He, however, having answered, said "Amen, I say to you. I do not know you." 13 Be alert, then, because you do not know the day or the hour."
25:1 "...ten unmarried girls..." is literally "virgins" in Greek. In time of Jesus, the term "virgin" had a greater meaning than celibacy; it referred to a girl's unmarried status and her age as an adolescent. "...(with)..." In Greek, "bridegroom" is possessive, so the phrase should read "...a meeting of the bridegroom."
25:4 "...(extra)...(additional) oil..." This was oil that was not in the lamps.
25:6 "...a cry was heard..." is literally "...a cry had happened...."
25:8 "...some of your oil..." is literally "out of your (extra) oil..."
25:9 "...oil dealers..." is literally " the ones selling (oil)."
25:10 "...(oil)..." Oil is implied in the Greek, but supplied for English use.
This parable is part of a greater discourse on the end times, the second of three stories (see Matthew 24:45-25:30). The moral of all three parables is the same: be prepared.
Jesus used the marriage custom familiar with his contemporaries. The wedding festivities began at the bride's house. Late in the evening, the groom would arrive to escort the bride to his father's house. Last minute haggling between the groom and his father-in-law over the dowery was commonplace. Such haggling symbolized the esteemed value of the bride, but many times delayed the wedding. [25:5a]
When both parties agreed upon the dowry, the groom would lead the wedding party back to his father's house for the ceremony and reception. At this time, town criers would proclaim the arrival of the groom. Such proclamations alerted those who did not stay at the bride's house or who waited for the ceremony to begin. Since this was an all-night celebration, napping between events in the wedding was reasonable. [25:5b-6] (See Newman and Stine, The Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, New York, NY, United Bible Societies, 1988, pp. 765)
The waiting girls in the parable were most likely cousins or sisters of the groom. As the welcoming party for the groom's family, they would alert others about the groom's impending arrival. [25:1] Their lamps were fueled by oil. Since the lamps were small, they needed constant maintenance with additional oil and adjustment of the wick. The lamps could be set low for rest time and readjusted for greater light when needed. [25:3-4, 7]
In Matthew, Jesus connected the image of the wedding feast to God's Kingdom. Among many Jewish circles, a never-ending feast symbolized the Kingdom. When Jesus told this festive story specifically for his followers, the principles in the wedding took on symbolic weight. The groom was the Christ (see Matthew 22:1-14) The town crier was the evangelist who proclaimed the coming King in the marketplace. The night represented the dark times of persecution prophesied before the final judgment. All the signs pointed toward the lived experience of Matthew's audience: a Jewish-Christian community awaiting Jesus' return.
The two most interesting symbols were the ten girls with their lamps. The waiting girls were Christians longing for the Christ, the bridegroom. The lamps represented the disciple's example which gave light to the world (see Matthew 5:14-16). In this context, the time of slumber became the delay of the Lord's coming. The extra oil became the faith which fueled the follower's example during the delay. Lazy Christians (like the foolish girls) were those who did not renew their faith and allowed their example to slack. They depended on others for motivation (i.e, the oil dealers). And their ears were dull to call of the Lord. In the end, their dependence would fail them. So, would their faith and example. They would stand outside calling upon a Lord who did not know them, because they did not get to know the Lord. Even those who had blood relations with the Lord (i.e., sisters of the Lord).
No wonder Matthew insisted upon an alert spirit. [25:13] Preparation meant more than declaring one's self a follower. It meant a constant and growing relationship with Christ through prayer and example. In Matthew, preparation meant action.
Catechism Themes: He Will Come Again in Glory: Part 1 (CCC 668-672)
Matthew presented us with a paradox in the parable. The bridegroom is present but still approaching the feast. We still live in that paradox. The Kingdom is present in Christ, but not fully realized. The "present, but not yet" nature of the Kingdom gives us hope as we look forward to the future.
The Lord is present to us in his Body, the Church. As his instrument and the assembly of his faithful, the Church acts in the Lord's name and with the Lord's power. To the extent it brings people into a relationship with God, the Church is Christ's presence on earth.
The Church, as a pilgrim people, still struggles against evil from within and without. As the Church calls upon all to conversion, she, too, must hear the Lord's voice for renewal. For church leaders and its faithful sin. They misuse God's gifts and reject God's call, even as they invoke God's name. The Church must always turn to the Lord as she urges others to do. Thus, she can be a credible witness for repentance on earth.
Christ who now reigns with the Father will soon return. He will establish a reign of love, justice, and peace. He will bring the fullness of the Kingdom. But, there will be trials before he returns. The promise of return and the struggle against evil to realize that promise form the basis of hope. The promise keeps our focus. But the struggle helps to keep our faith alive and our example sure.
How has the faith struggles of others inspired you to action? How has your faith growth involved struggle with distraction, lack of time, and evil itself? How do you think God sees your struggles?
We, Christians, are waiting for the party to start. But the Host hasn't arrived quite yet. So, our anticipation rises.
We have no choice but to wait for the Lord. But, we have options to stay prepared. We can feed our faith through prayer and study. We can feed others through our heartfelt works of charity and example. Or, we can put our faith on the shelf and just wait for the right day to dust it off. If we choose the later, however, beware! We may find there is no faith left.
Reflect on your current personal struggles. Where is God in the picture? Take one of those struggles and pray about it everyday this week. At the end of the week, reflect how God got involved in the struggle, and where he is leading you.