My brothers and sisters, Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do no know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
Not all even of the chosen people are assured salvation. Only five bridesmaids were there to welcome the bridal party; the others were told, “I do not know you.” The interpretation of this parable developed with time. In it Jesus was warning that salvation was not guaranteed through perfect observance of law and tradition. In this he was in continuity with Old Testament prophets up to John the Baptist, who bluntly corrected those who preened themselves on being Israelites, with Abraham as their father, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Jesus, therefore, was not saying anything new, only imparting a greater urgency to the oft repeated prophetic challenge.
When Matthew wrote, a controversy was raging between Christian Jews and Pharisaic Jews. The former considered themselves genuine disciples both of Moses and Jesus, the latter condemned the Jesus-followers as traitors to Moses. Some of the chosen people accepted Jesus, some did not. The Messiah had come and some were not ready. Already in Matthew's gospel, the interpretation of the parable was evolving further. The Christians faced the question of when to expect the second coming of Jesus. The moral is, “Keep awake, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Being baptised was no guarantee of being ready to welcome Jesus on his return. As we read this passage, we sense the pathos and tragedy of the foolish bridesmaids. They did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off asleep. No matter how many excuses may explain the failure, nonetheless, people often let an important opportunity slip by. We need the repeated reminder, “watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.”
On the other hand, some are so absorbed in the quest for God and in rarified spirituality as to despise this present life and consider the material world totally unimportant. The danger is that hyper-spiritual people can weave a web of immorality without knowing it. They nod off to sleep and hardly notice the real condition of their lives. Paul warns against sexual aberrations and rejects the excuse that the second coming of Jesus makes our actions of no consequence.
It is lovely to be met by someone when we arrive home from a journey. To be met by a friendly face is all the more gratifying if our arrival has been delayed. Recognizing the hoped-for presence in the crowd, despite our very late arrival, makes us all the more appreciative of their coming. They have been faithful, in spite of the inconvenience of the unexpected delay. The bridegroom, in today's parable, who turned up late must have been equally pleased to find that at least some of the bridesmaids were there to meet him with torches lit and to escort him to the wedding banquet, in spite of his late arrival and their long wait. After speaking the parable, Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them, 'Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.'
When the Lord calls us to be his followers, it is always for the long haul; he looks to us to keep our light burning right to the very end, through the good times and the bad times. Earlier in Matthew's gospel Jesus had addressed his disciples as the light of the world and called on them to let their light shine so that people might see their good works and give glory to God for them. Keeping our lamp burning, letting our light shine to the end, amounts to doing the good works the Lord calls on us to do, for as long as we are able to do them. [MH]