November 8, 2020
Sunday Between November 6 and November 12 Inclusive
Proper 27, Ordinary Time 32
All Saints is November 1, or may be celebrated as the first Sunday in November. See Matthew 5:1-12 for All Saints commentary.
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Matthew 25:1-13, The Message or Matthew 25:1-13, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew are considered by scholars to be the last of 5 "discourses" (i.e., long sections of teachings by Jesus). It is hypothesized that these 5 sections are intended by Matthew to be a new Torah - a new set of 5 "books" paralleling the 5 books of the Torah attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The implication of this for present day understanding is that this final section has been significantly edited by Matthew to fit his intentions. Today's text is a case in point.
Even a casual reading of this "parable" will reveal a striking dis-similarity with Jesus' other parables:
- it does not cut against social or religious expectations;
- it does not surprise or shock his first listeners - instead it would confirm their conventional wisdom that the foolish are punished and the prepared are rewarded;
- there is no unexpected twist in the story;
- the story lacks humour, paradox, new insight;
- it is unimaginative and easy to figure out what "the moral" is.
- it concludes with a closed, impenetrable boundary - clearly separated insiders from outsiders.
The themes of chapters 24 and 25 are: final judgment and the return of the Son of Man, or, the establishing of the reign of God on earth; and teachings about delays. These two issues were certainly of high concern to Matthew and his community. Scholars debate how much they were top-of-mind for Jesus. Thus the scholarly debate about how much Matthew used - and changed - anything Jesus might have actually said to address concerns that arose only after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.
The fact that the maidens are immediately divided into two groups, and immediately described as being either "wise / prepared" or "foolish / unprepared" ought to give us a heads up that this does not sound like a typical Jesus way of putting things.
The parable describes familiar aspect of wedding festivities. The groom leaves his home to go and fetch his bride and bring her back to his home. When they arrive the wedding party begins.
The bridegroom is "a long time in coming" rather than "delayed," because "delayed" presumes an expectation of a pre-arranged, set time when the bridegroom and bride would arrive, and at the time of Jesus there was no such custom. There was of course a general expectation of when things would be held, but the custom was that things began when the key people showed up.
The bridesmaids who did not bring extra oil were determining the time frame in which the bridegroom could be honourably welcomed back to his home with lamps fully ablaze. Their lack of preparation is disrespectful and insulting to the bridegroom. (Imagine the scene if all 10 maidens had had to rush off to get extra oil. The Bridegroom and his bride would have arrived back into a scene of darkness and ill-preparation. What would his bride and her family think about him? What would his neighbours gossip about the next day?) No wonder the bridegroom later says to them, "I do not know you."
Since all 10 of the bridesmaids fall asleep, the conclusion in verse 13 is illogical. This is not a story about "Stay alert." Nor is this a story about "delay."
Rather this is a story about honouring the bridegroom who has gone away to fetch his bride by being prepared for his return - at the time of his own choosing, whenever that might be.
How shall we here today await the Bridegroom with honour?
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, see below, pages 122-123.
Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)
1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Matthew 25:1-13 (The Message)
1 "God's kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. 2 Five were silly and five were smart. 3 The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. 4 The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. 5 The bridegroom didn't show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.
6 "In the middle of the night someone yelled out, 'He's here! The bridegroom's here! Go out and greet him!'
7 "The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. 8 The silly virgins said to the smart ones, 'Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.'
9 "They answered, 'There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.'
10 "They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.
11 "Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, 'Master, we're here. Let us in.'
12 "He answered, 'Do I know you? I don't think I know you.'
13 "So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.