The Gospel of Matthew devotes several chapters to Jesus’ prophecies and warnings about the coming Reign of God. In this coming week’s Gospel reading (Matthew 25:1-13), there is an amusing story of a late bridegroom, wise young women who had prepared for the unexpected, five who had not, and the calamity that befalls those who do not “keep awake.”
The parable uses the wedding customs of the time to urge preparedness for the imminent dawning of the expected Reign. Written in a time when eschatological expectations were much more urgent, the warning has largely lost its force as churches and individuals rarely think about the consummation of the age other than in purely personal terms as death draws near.
While we do not know enough about the rituals for first century nuptials to wring theological insight from the details of the parable, we can understand it as another teaching about God’s desire that people be ready for the divine embrace. God’s love is broad and inclusive, yet human readiness to receive it matters. For Matthew, this means living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount. Serious disciples are those who live out the Gospel for the long haul; they are the ones who will find joy when the longed-for coming of the bridegroom occurs.
A few years ago there was a terrible ice storm in northwest Missouri, and the monks of Conception Abbey lost electrical power throughout the monastery. Fortunately, the monastery is located near its sister convent in Clyde, MO, a few short miles away. The nuns had prepared for such a possibility by having sufficient generators to keep their power going. So the monks trekked over to the convent to keep warm, all the while giving thanks for the “wise virgins” who were well prepared.
The parable is not simply about who gets to be included in the wedding banquet, but about who has been living life with an eye toward the values of God’s Reign. As Eugene Boring writes, a parable like is “thoroughly committed to the conviction that having the right confession without the corresponding life is ultimately disastrous.” This is a large theme in Matthew’s Gospel.
As we conclude the Christian year in a couple of weeks, we look forward to the intentional season of keeping watch as we wait for the Advent of the Christ. We also know that texts that describe the summing up of the age will be a part of our lectionary reading.
Living life without a sense of limits—of time, of energy, of opportunity—leaves important things postponed and, ultimately, undone. The parable warns against such foolishness, a lesson worth hearing.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.