The Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Anyone who goes shopping at this time of year will know that Christmas is just around the corner. Decorations are out, gifts are being bought and all those delicious Christmas treats are probably tempting us to start our Christmas celebrations already.
Christian churches which follow a liturgical calendar dedicate the four Sundays before Christmas to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the season of Advent. The readings for the Sundays leading up to Advent have a focus on Jesus’ promise to come back at the end of time to complete his work of redeeming the world. When Jesus returns, evil will be overcome once and for all and creation will be restored to the way God intended it in the beginning.
Jesus’ teachings about his return from Matthew 25 is part of a longer section of Matthew’s gospel which began in chapter 24, when his disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world. Jesus concluded his teaching with three parables: the ten bridesmaids or virgins, the three servants, and the final judgment between the sheep and the goats. Today we will begin by looking at Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.
It’s possible to read this parable and think that Jesus must have made a mistake. As children, many of us might have been taught that it’s always good to share, so we can easily think that the bridesmaids who didn’t share their oil with those whose oil ran out must not have been good Christians.
This parable isn’t actually about sharing what we have with others. Instead, one way we can understand this parable is that it is about whether we think about our salvation in the short- or long-term.
The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids who didn’t bring extra oil were thinking short-term. They had received and accepted the invitation to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus describes here as a wedding feast. However, these girls are like people going on a camping trip who don’t take spare batteries for their torches. You never know when your old batteries will run out, so it would make sense to take spares, just in case. These girls weren’t expecting to wait so long for the bridegroom, so they didn’t take spare batteries. When he eventually turned up to take them into the eternal wedding feast, they weren’t able to greet him because they are busy looking for more to keep their lights going. The result of their short-term thinking was that they were locked out of the party.
On the other hand, the five ‘wise’ girls who took extra oil with them were thinking longer-term. They were so joyful about being invited to the wedding feast that they wanted to be prepared. They wanted to make sure they got in. They took extra oil with them just in case the bridegroom was late, so they wouldn’t miss out on the party. Because these girls wanted to be ready for his arrival, they thought about the future, prepared for what might happen, took extra supplies and were ready when the bridegroom arrived.
One message that comes through in all three parables in this chapter is that not everyone makes it into the celebration. A lot of people can think that a loving and forgiving God would never exclude anyone from an eternity with him. The good news of Jesus tells us that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s Kingdom.
However, these parables, as well as other teachings of Jesus, tell us that not everyone makes it. Remember, all ten of these girls were invited to the wedding reception. The five who eventually made it into the feast were those who were prepared and ready when the bridegroom arrived. Those who weren’t ready for him missed out. That wasn’t the bridegroom’s fault. He had done everything he could so they would be able to come. They didn’t make it in because they weren’t prepared. The message Jesus is giving us is that everyone’s welcome, but if we’re not ready for him when he returns, then we are the ones who are responsible.
So how do we prepare for Jesus’ return? We start just by thinking beyond the here-and-now and getting ready for Jesus’ return. It is easy for us to get caught up in everyday concerns, pressures and problems. However, in this parable we can hear Jesus telling us to lift our attention beyond the here-and-now and keep in mind that he will return one day.
In one way, that means working out our salvation now. We can get so focussed on the here-and-now that our spiritual lives can slip. The busyness, pressures and demands of life can mean that we don’t prioritize spiritual disciplines like worshipping with our Christian family, listening to God in his word and talking with him in prayer. One way we prepare for the coming of Jesus is to remain constant in worship, in reading our Bibles, in prayer, and in meeting with other Christians. When we practice these disciplines, the Holy Spirit keeps our spiritual tanks full so our lights can burn brightly in faith and in love.
Another way we can prepare for the return of Jesus is to view our lives now through the lens of what is to come. Life as we know it now will not last forever, even thought it might seem like there is no way through the struggles, pains or difficulties that we experience in this world. In this parable Jesus is reminding us that we have something far, far better to look forward to: an eternal wedding reception with ‘the best of meats and the finest of wines’ that Isaiah 25:6 describes in perfect fellowship with God and his people. We prepare for Jesus’ return by living in the faith that this is our future, our eternal destiny. We will still have struggles, difficulties and suffering in this life, but when we see them from an eternal perspective, we can also find the hope and joy we need to get us through.
Are we living as wise or foolish people? Are we so concerned about the here-and-now that we forget about Jesus’ return and the joy he will bring? Or are we looking ahead to when Jesus will come back and welcome us into the eternal wedding reception he promises? As we hear and reflect on these parables from Matthew 25, God wants to prepare us for what is to come, because when Jesus returns, he wants us to join in the celebration he will bring with him—a celebration that will have no end!
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.