Today’s gospel comes from the end of Jesus’ teaching ministry. He was preparing his disciples for his coming crucifixion but also for his second coming. This is the first of three lessons that Jesus gave his disciples about the judgment that comes at the end of this age. In this parable, Jesus speaks about bridesmaids who have a role in weddings that is very different from the role of bridesmaids today. These women were waiting for the groom to come. Their role is to light the way for the groom to travel to the bride’s house and then to light the way for the bride and groom as they journey together to the place of the wedding and the wedding feast. The oil in their lamps symbolizes good deeds that result from accepting Jesus’ authority to describe what obedience to God looks like lived out.
The foolish bridesmaids do not have oil for their lamps. They did not come prepared with a flask of oil which was necessary to fulfill their role in the bridal party. In what ways are we, as church, depending upon others to do the good deeds we have been called to do?
The wise bridesmaids do not share their oil—if the lamps go out before the bride and groom are escorted to the wedding, then the bridesmaids’ role in the wedding procession is not done—there is no one else to do this work. Good deeds worked through the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be transferred from one person to another. What good deeds are we, as church, empowered to do in this time and place?
The door is shut against the bridesmaids who were not prepared. They do not get to join in the wedding festivities. But worst yet, the groom no longer recognizes them as his friends. Jesus calls us to be alive, to watch. When he returns, it will be too late to do what we have been called to do. What do we, as church, need to be doing in order to better live into the reality of our calling as Jesus followers?
“Matthew 25, the second and final chapter of the Olivet Discourse, is divided into three sections. The first two sections are the familiar parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents, concluding the section of illustration and application which began at 24:32. The final section, 25:31-46, predicts the judgment of the Gentiles after the second coming of Christ.” John F. Walvoord, Bibliotheca sacra 129/154 (1972): 99.