McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Tim

Light a candle

Read Matthew 25:1-13

This parable of the bridesmaids is part of a larger section in Matthew, called the “eschatological discourse,” or Jesus’ teaching about the end times. It begins in the previous chapter when Jesus’ disciples ask him about his “coming” (parousia) and what signs will take place (24:3). Jesus’ describes the end times with parables in chapter 25 on the bridesmaids, the talents (25:14-30), and the king judging the nations (25:31-46). Significantly, immediately after his teaching on the end times, Jesus says, “After two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (26:1-2) It’s important to read all of chapters 24-25, and the opening verses of 26, to understand where this parable fits into the whole arc of Matthew’s story.

The main question from the parable of the bridesmaids is, “How are we to live as Jesus’ disciples as we wait for his coming (parousia)?” If we interpret this parable allegorically, the 10 bridesmaids represent the church, Matthew’s community, as it waits for the arrival of the bridegroom (representing Jesus).

It’s interesting that we can’t really tell the wise/foolish bridesmaids apart in the story. They all are dressed up for the marriage feast, they all have lamps with oil, they all fall asleep when the bridegroom is delayed. The “wise” take along extra oil (v. 4), but this doesn’t become apparent until after the bridegroom arrives.

Luther Seminary professor Dirk Lange cautions against turning this into a parable of judgment against other people. “The church always remains a mixed community. Making the center of interpretation the issue of foolish or wise would miss the point of the parable.” (Lange, “Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13.” workingpreacher.com, Nov. 8, 2020)

The point is that the church is not in the business of judging each other’s faith or actions, separating out who is “wise” and who is “foolish.” Judgment is God’s alone, which is beyond human control. Rather, the point of the parable is how we wait and watch for Christ’s presence among us.

Scholar M. Eugene Boring suggests that having extra “oil” represents responsible deeds of discipleship—acts of love, justice, and mercy—not an anxious, panicky watching for signs of the end. (Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible, “Matthew,” p. 450) The “oil” allows God’s light to shine forth through us, like Jesus’ promise in the Sermon on the Mount. “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others….” (Matthew 5:14, 16) God’s baptismal promise of grace and truth is the “oil” we need to keep shining and serving as Jesus’ hands and heart. The good news of Jesus’ cross and resurrection fuels our faith and deeds of discipleship.

We don’t know when the “end” will come—whether that is the end of human life, the end of a chapter of our lives, or the end of time. We don’t know when Christ will come to bring the fullness of God’s reign of grace. But perhaps the parable demonstrates that Christ’s coming is not a one-time event far in the future, but rather a continuing presence and calling to reflect the light, love, and hope that we have first received from him.

Reflection Questions

1) On the journey of faith, what is the extra “oil” that keeps one’s discipleship going?

2) What brings unity to the church and to our local faith community of MLC? What kinds of pressures cause division, and how do we avoid judging other members of the church who are different than we are?

3) How do we “keep awake” to the promise of Christ’s presence each day? Where do we see the light of Christ in our daily lives?

Extinguish the candle