(Year A, Sunday Closest to November 9, Gospel Reading Matthew 25:1-13)
“And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:10-13 (ESV)
As we approach the Advent season, and as our world spins seemingly closer and closer to war, famine, and disaster, it is natural for our minds to turn toward what the End of Days will look like, when it will be, and how we are to prepare for it. It is fitting then that we read this parable a few short weeks out from Advent, when our hearts, minds, and Lectionary will turn toward the anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming as we prepare to read about and celebrate His first. This parable is packed with eschatological implication, and has been debated by scholars based on various facets of interpretation.
But I’m not focused on the academic debate. It is clear to me that the Christ is the bridegroom, and the virgins represent Israel and the nations, and those who are prepared with ready and obedient hearts will be accepted as disciples and Kingdom citizens. Those who are unprepared, through spiritual blindness and willful ignorance, will be turned away and left to wander a parched and thirsty land.
How do we know Christ is the bridegroom? In Isaiah chapters 61 and 62, God’s love for Israel is compared to that of a bridegroom for his bride. The ESV Study Bible notation on Isaiah 61:10 asserts that the speaker is the Messiah, and that he “will lead his people into the romance of salvation.” Isaiah 62:5b makes an explicit connection between the joy a bridegroom has for his bride and how God rejoices over His people. So the bridegroom is both the Messiah AND God, which should signal to the reader that the Messiah is more than just a mighty earthly king over Israel. By virtue of the repeated vision of the bridegroom, the reader should see that the expectation of the Messiah is that he is to be “like” God, as in, having the same substance, the same being. It is clear to me that the parable is talking about the coming of Jesus at the end of the ages.
One of the core points of this parable is that the wise virgins were ready – they foresaw a reason to bring extra oil and therefore didn’t need to leave where they were staying to go get more. What does this translate to in the Christian life? One part, I firmly believe, is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity. That is a key starting point, because to seek to rob Him of that is to try to put He and I on a level playing field – and we are very much not. If Jesus is not God, part and parcel with the Holy Trinity, begotten not made, Very God from Very God, then I might start to think that “Hey, this guy called Jesus lived a perfect life, maybe I can do that too!” and I seek to be my own “savior,” as if it was not by Jesus’ Lordship and His Spirit at work in me that I could attain to His perfection. How can Jesus be my Lord if I am seeking equality of station with Him? If my salvation is predicated on acknowledging that Jesus is my Lord, then I must get that He is more than I can be, in this life or any other.
Therefore, readiness can be considered as related to true faith, or, put another way, true faith will produce readiness. Let’s think it through – if I have true faith in Jesus as my true Lord and true Savior, then I know that I have an advocate that is Very God on my side. When I subject my will to His, I accept that all other things are secondary – my wealth, my esteem, my material wishes. I rely on His Providence, and because He is Good, my God will provide for my needs. Therefore, when the calamity strikes, there are only two outcomes for the Redeemed: either we are called home from the bodily life, and “asleep” in Christ until He calls us to our Resurrected lives, or God sees fit to spare us and preserve our lives. This is readiness – that I have the depth of faith to recognize that it is only God who can provide for me in the hour of need, that I cannot, in the end, provide for myself. So, to be ever watchful is to continually seek renewal and edification of faith.
How do we take the knowledge of Jesus as the bridegroom, and what it means to be ready, and apply it to how we approach the end times? Well, one of the first ways is to listen to the words of the bridegroom, as the authoritative source, and understand them as one who has true faith in His Lordship: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) Earlier, he says “…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44) In fact, each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all contain this language. Therefore, hearing that no man will be able to predict the timing of the Second Coming, we must fully take it to heart. We are to be ready to recognize the things that happen as forerunners of that great day (“He who has ears let him hear,” the refrain throughout the Revelation of St. John), but we are to know absolutely that trying to predict or calculate the Day of the Lord is a futile effort – for only the Father knows when it is.
Meditate on your “state of readiness.” Do you rely on Jesus your Lord for your salvation? Do you trust in God for his provision? Think also on the age we are in – do many of your friends and loved ones spend inordinate amounts of time chasing after false “second comings”? Consider your own thoughts. Do you worry too much about what the End will be like? Take comfort that Jesus is your Salvation, and that you have a Father that delights in providing for you – and knowing these things, be assured that they are true even in the midst of war, famine, and disaster.
Grace and peace to all, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.