Summary: A sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 27 - Matthew’s story of the Ten Bridesmaids.
26th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 27], November 9, 2008, “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have claimed as your sons and daughters, and made us heirs of your eternal kingdom. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us to live our lives in faith. Shatter our complacency, break open our consciousness to your presence among us, and enable us to prepare for our future life in your glory. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
As I teach our kids in confirmation class, there is a difference between a parable and an allegory. Jesus often taught with parables, which were short stories that had one single point. An allegory, on the other hand, often has more than one point, and is usually the creation of the author, in addressing a situation confronting the early church. As a result, in the allegory, the church was able to draw similarities between their current situation and the story, as a means of understanding their faith.
In almost all of the commentaries that I read on our Gospel lesson for this morning, it was pointed out that the “Story of the Ten Bridesmaids” is an allegory, rather than a parable. As a result, I can not help but believe that the impact of this story is quite different for the church of today, than it was for the early church to whom Matthew first addressed his Gospel. Like any fine drama, we need to set the scene, to grasp the historical context in which the action takes place, to better understand its significance for those of us who live in a different age.
The time is 80 AD, some fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Rome has just defeated an uprising in Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple – for centuries, the center of worship for the Jews. It was the place where God’s presence was thought to dwell. As a result, many of the Jews lost their center of hope, questioning whether God had abandoned them and their pleas for deliverance.
At the same time, the early Christians, who believed that Jesus was the Christ, who had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, and promised to return to establish God’s kingdom in righteousness, as yet, hadn’t done so. Not only had the temple been destroyed, but even those who had faith in Jesus, were being persecuted and dying, longing for his return. Some of these early Christians were also beginning to lose hope, for they expected his return to be imminent.
This is what prompted Paul to write, as recorded in our second lesson, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died…” In other words, Paul was assuring the early church that the dead would not miss our Lord’s return and his establishment of God’s righteous kingdom.
Thus, it was a time in which both Christians and Jews believed that God would soon act to bring his judgement upon the earth, and vindicate those who had faith in him. This is the scene, the historical context of the people to whom Matthew addressed his Gospel with this message of hope. So let’s consider the story.
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps, according to custom, and went to meet the bridegroom to usher him to the wedding banquet. Five of them were foolish, in taking no extra oil for their lamps, thinking that the bridegroom would not be deterred. But the others took an extra flask of oil for their lamps, in case their wait would be longer than expected.
Well, as the play unfolds, the bridegroom was delayed, and all ten of the bridesmaids became drowsy, and fell asleep. But then came the cry, “Awake, for the bridegroom comes! Go out to meet him.” But as they got up and trimmed their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids discovered that they were nearly out of oil. Their lamps were going out.
So they asked those who had brought the extra oil if they might borrow some for their lamps. But the wise said, “No, we still don’t know how long we might need to wait. Go and buy some for yourselves.” And while they were gone, the bridegroom came, and they missed the opportunity to escort him to the wedding banquet. In fact, they were later even denied admission to the feast.
Now, considering the historical context, the scene in which this story originally unfolded, it is not difficult to see the symbolic meaning it presents. Clearly, the return of the risen and ascended Christ, the church’s bridegroom, was taking longer than the early Christians had anticipated.