Our text: Matthew 25: 1-13
Chapters 24 and 25 in Matthew’s Gospel are about the end times, though not in the manner in which we conventionally think of “end” times. Our text today is the third of three parables Jesus inserts in the midst of this longer discourse.
First, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a homeowner, guarding his house on a night when he knows a thief intends to break in. Second, he says, the kingdom is like a servant given a set of tasks by a master while he is away on a long journey. Then we get to our parable.
It is set in the context of a wedding. There are 10 virgins in our tale; they have lamps; they are waiting at night for the bridegroom to come. We wonder: Has the wedding just taken place? Will the virgins travel with the bridegroom to the wedding? What exactly is their role? Are they eligible to be his bride? Are they bridesmaids? We don’t know.
We know they have lamps and that it is nightfall. We know they are waiting for him. We know he has not yet come. We know the Kingdom of God is somehow like this scene. So we pay close attention.
Five of these virgins are said to be foolish; they bring no oil for their lamps. Lamps cannot give light without oil. The other five are prudent. They bring flasks of oil with them. As it turns out, the bridegroom is long delayed in coming and all ten women become drowsy and fall asleep. Their lamps are still burning, their oil is running low.
In the middle of the night, there’s a cry. Who cries this cry, we don’t know. But we know what is said:
‘Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ (Mt. 25:6)
Here we have an interesting scene. The bridegroom has come to where these young woman are waiting. They have not gone to the wedding; the bridegroom has come to them. And this voice has invited them to come out to greet him. All the virgins rise; they trim their lamps. The foolish ones now see they have no more oil, so they ask their prudent friends to share their oil.
The wise reply: “We don’t have enough oil for both of us. Go to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.” Off they go. While they are gone the bride groom comes and those who are ready greet him and enter the wedding feast.
There are two strange details.
“The bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.” (Mt. 25:10)
The women go into the wedding feast with him. How is that? How does a bridegroom bring a wedding feast to another part of town where women are waiting for him? And what kind of wedding feast can suddenly have its doors securely locked so that those not ready when the bridegroom comes cannot enter? This a curious wedding and a mysterious bridegroom. Mysterious and elusive – because when the foolish virgins return and cry out to him “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” he says in reply:
“Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Mt. 25:12)
After which Jesus concludes the parable with the phrase: “Therefore stay awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 12:13) And herein lies the allusion to “end” times.
What is the heart of this passage?
There are many questions here, but I am drawn to this verse: “The bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.” (Mt. 25:10)
It’s strange. The bridegroom comes and suddenly the wedding feast is there too. What kind of bridegroom brings a wedding feast with him while he travels about at night?
We must be in the realm of deep metaphor. The wedding feast must not be a literal wedding feast. The wedding feast, the bridegroom and the virgins must stand for something. That something has to be about love, about a great love. What do these figures stand for?
What is this love? I think it is the same Love Jesus revealed to Peter, James and John on the mountain of the Transfiguration. It is the radiant light that shines from the Father’s heart, that burns in Jesus’ heart. It is uncreated Love, the Love beyond all loves with which the Father loves the Son. It is the Love which transmits life, the Love which delights in the beloved, the eternal Love that has rested, rests and will always rest upon Jesus – from before the foundation of the world; the Love Jesus revealed when he walked upon the earth, when He healed, when He taught, when He gave His life.
The bridegroom, of course, is Jesus, and the wedding feast He brings is the glimpsing of and the entrance into this Love beyond all loves. The feast is but a metaphor for this Love beyond all loves, a Love that is like our spousal love; intense, devoted, total, from one heart to another. The door of entry is our spiritual perception, our capacity to see this Love, to welcome it, to rest in it, to act in it.
The virgins represent the soul. They, like we, have the capacity to perceive or not perceive that Love, to enter or not to enter the feast. The bridegroom brings this love with him, in him, so to speak. He brings it to the soul who is eligible for such a love; who has kept herself reserved for it, ready for it; who has waited for it; who was tested during her waiting; who is now turned toward love when it comes; lamp burning, extra oil ready.
This Love beyond all loves is ever present. It is eternal. It is the end of time; it is the purpose of time; it ever intersects with time, like waves from an eternal sea lapping upon our shores. But the soul does not always see; the door of our perception is not always open. We are like the blind man, Bartimaus. Jesus stands in our midst and we cannot see Him. The lamp has run out of oil; it no longer gives light.
How Can I Take this to Prayer?
“While they went off to buy the oil, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.” (Mt. 25:10)
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the bridegroom. Though you delay, yet you come and meet me. You give me access to a Love greater than all loves. A Love open to me even in the midst of night. You in me and the Father in you, the indwelling of divine light. Amen. Teach me to keep the lamp of my heart burning by the oil of prayer and acts of love. Have mercy on me.