Summary: Jesus speaks of our need to prepare for His return. We are encouraged to live lives of worship and devotion to God as we watch and wait for the Bridegroom. (This is part of our lectionary-based series for November 2017, "BE the Church.")
Last Sunday we had a gender reveal party to find out if we’re having a boy or a girl in April. I was so convinced it was a boy, based on how different the first trimester had been this time around. But then, with friends gathered around, we popped a large black balloon with question marks all over it, and pink confetti paper burst forth all over the floor. It’s a GIRL! And we are thrilled.
But, you know, one of the first things someone said to me—just a minute or two after finding out—he said, “Now you’ve got two weddings you’re going to have to pay for!” THAT was apparently the first thought that crossed his mind. And it’s one of the most common comments I’ve had this whole week, too—usually from other men—about how expensive it will be to pay for two weddings. So, I thought I’d better begin looking into this a bit more. And I was shocked! After a bit of research, I found the average cost of a wedding in Edmond, Oklahoma is $37,254.00! YIKES! (From: https://www.costofwedding.com/index.cfm/action/search.weddingcost?zipcode=73013, as of 11-8-2017)
I mean, I know weddings can be pricy, but ours wasn’t that high. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it was classy without breaking the bank. Nevertheless, it got me thinking of how I’m going to need to really save up! And it also got me to thinking about what the wedding industry has become. From the caterer, to the cake, the colors, the dresses, the tuxes, the limo. There’s the location of the ceremony, the location of the reception, the location of the rehearsal dinner. There’s the DJ, the photographer, the wedding music, the first dance song, the menu, the napkins, the party favors. All this and more—I’ve hardly scratched the surface! So many details that become so great, the day gets so overblown, so the focus is on the wedding, not the marriage.
But one of the biggest details of all is when it comes to the wedding party. Who gets to stand up there beside you? And this is important. The wedding party is supposed to help the bride and groom with preparations beforehand. They’re supposed to help make the bride and groom’s job easier the day of the wedding. And they’re also supposed to stand there as witnesses before God and men to the promises made at the altar—and as such witnesses, if the marriage goes sour, their role (from what I tell them, at least, when I perform weddings) is to remind the couple of their marriage vow. These personal personnel details are important. Who is in your wedding party is important!
From our parable in Matthew 25, this morning, as well as from other conversations with Jesus, we find that we’re part of His holy wedding party. While some sigh in sadness at being “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” that’s not the case for us. We are always a bridesmaid, AND always THE bride, as Jesus seems to be mixing his metaphors in this parable. The main characters mentioned include the bridegroom and 10 virgins—meaning bridesmaids, attendants to the bride herself. Notice, the bride isn’t directly mentioned in this parable. But we know who she is. Jesus, himself, is the bridegroom; the church is His bride. Meaning all believers in Christ, together, make up His bride. All the saints before us, after us, all around the world: that’s the church, the bride of Christ.
But here in Matthew 25, Jesus talks about it differently. In this instance, in this case, individuals in and outside the church itself are bridesmaids. Through the course of the parable, while perhaps exaggerating some details, Jesus describes the wedding customs of the day. Customs that would’ve been familiar to his hearers, though, for us, a bit odd. So, let’s set the stage:
In the ancient Jewish world, marriages were pre-arranged. A father would set the bride-price for his daughter’s hand. Now, before we think of how barbaric and uncivilized they were, “selling” their daughters, that’s not exactly an accurate or fair representation of things. Sure, there were, likely, some fathers more focused on what he can get out of the suitor—money, property, power, etc. For most, that wasn’t the case. These were, after all, their little girls, treasured by their daddies (all of whom were wrapped around her little finger). Fathers wanted to make sure that, if any man is going to marry my little girl—this young woman whom I cherish—he’d better prove he’s willing and able to support her and care for her. Even make certain sacrifices for her. This seems to be the real “spirit” of the bride-price, as proof.
So, the bride-price is set, then paid. At the point of payment, while the wedding ceremony hadn’t yet occurred, the two were considered married, for all intents and purposes. Think Joseph and Mary, betrothed, but not married; yet, when he found out Mary was pregnant, Joseph considered “divorce.” So there was a sort of understood legality to this unofficial “marriage.”