Gospel Analysis: Wise and Foolish Maidens
Pentecost 24 Matthew 23:1-12
Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 240.
THE LARGER CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 25:14-30
Matthew 24-25 is sometimes called the Eschatological Discourse.
As we recall from earlier lessons, Matthew gathered not only taxes but the teachings and events of Jesus’ life. We remember that Matthew was the organizer, the systematizer, the arranger of the stories about the life of Jesus. We see how Matthew clearly organized his material into sections such as the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, the miracles in chapters 8-9, teachings on discipleship in chapter 10, parables in chapter 13. Similarly in chapters 24 and 25, Matthew gathers material about the End of the World into this section.
According to Aland in his SYNOPSIS OF THE GOSPELS, there are several teaching and events in this segment. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the eight stories listed below.
Chapter 24: The Eschatological Discourse
- The prediction of the destruction of the temple.
- Signs before the End.
- Persecutions foretold.
- The Desolating Sacrilege.
- False Christs and False Prophets.
- The Coming of the Son of Man
- The time of the Coming: the Parable of the Fig Tree
- Conclusion: Take Heed, Watch
Chapter 25: Parables about the Coming which supplement the Eschatological Discourse.
- The Parable of the Flood and Exhortations to Watchfulness. (Q. Matthew and Luke.)
- The Parable of the Good Servant and Wicked Servant (Q, Matthew, Luke)
- The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew)
- The Parable of the Talents (Q, Matthew, Luke)
- The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew)
There were two factors that enormously influenced the lives of early Christians:
- The destruction and leveling of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 CE and the pervasive thought that this event felt like the End of the World.
- The delay of the Second Coming. The Second Coming did not occur in the earliest disciples’ lifetime as they had erroneously thought it would. These earliest Christians had to deal with their misinterpretation of the timing of The End. Several of the teachings in Matthew 23 and the parables in Matthew 24 deal with these concerns
The early Christians struggled significantly with both of these issues. The End of the World did not come when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Second Coming of Christ did not come as early as they thought. Their personal timetable was wrong for both: for the End and for the Second Coming.
#298. THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS Matthew 25:1-13
This parable functions more like an allegory than a parable. There are many symbolic parts of this parable. In this story, Jesus = the bridegroom. The followers of Christ can be divided into two camps: five foolish = five foolish followers. Five wise = five faithful followers of Christ. The wedding feast = heaven. In other words, with all the symbolism in this story, it functions more like an allegory than a simple parable with one primary point.
-Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Normally, Matthew begins the parables of Jesus with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” This parable is only from Matthew. There is no parallel in Luke nor in Mark.
-Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Once again, Jesus took his parable from everyday, common life. Jews went to weddings often. Weddings were common, as were masters and slaves. The lamps were olive oil lamps.
The customs of a Jewish wedding in the first century Israel were so different than the customs of our contemporary weddings today. Sometimes, it is enjoyable to study the customs of Jewish weddings from the time of Christ. We remember the “water into wine” miracle in John 2 and that miracle story occurred at a wedding.
We recall Jesus’ teaching in Mark 2:18-22 about the new wine and the new wineskins. In that teaching, he referred to himself as the bridegroom. People don’t fast at a wedding but they party. Partying is the opposite of fasting.
-Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. “Wise and foolish” is a theme that we have heard before in Matthew. Foolish were the people who built their house upon the sand and wise were the people who built their house upon the rock. Those who built their house on the rock in Matthew 7/Luke 6 (p. 64) were those who heard the word of God AND did it. Those who built their house of the sand were those who heard the word of God but did NOT do it.
-When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Today, it is foolish not to have sufficient gas in your tank of your car and run out of gas on some remote highway. Note that the wise people took flasks of oil with them for their lamps. Similarly, wise people today often carry an extra five gallon plastic can of gasoline in their boats. If you run out, you have some gasoline in reserve.
-As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. Circle the word, “delayed.” This is the second time in the gospel stories that we have confronted this word. We can hear the rumors buzzing in the early church: “The Second Coming of Christ has been delayed. How are we to interpret that?” Many Christians had become drowsy and began to fall asleep. They had secretly assumed that Jesus Christ was not coming back, that maybe their new religion was all a hoax, and so some of these first Christians became “lax” in their living out of their faith.
-But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Suddenly, expectedly but unexpectedly, the bridegroom, whom everyone has been waiting for, finally arrives. What good news. What great news. The party is on.
-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.” The foolish bridesmaids were running low on fuel. They needed oil for their lamps. We remember the old camp song, “Give me oil for my lamps keep me burning. Give me oil for my lamp, I pray. Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, keep my burning til the judgment day.” There are other verses also, “Give me gas for my Ford, keep me truckin. Give me gas for my Ford today. Give me gas for my Ford, keep my truckin keep my trunkin, keep me truckin til the judgment day. Sing Hosanna.” We know that we need to keep moving, keep trucking, until the Judgment Day.
-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.” The wise are smart enough to know that they will not have enough oil if they give some of their oil to the five foolish maidens. They advise the foolish ones to go to the oil dealers and buy olive oil for their lamps.
This parable is still spiritually true. That is, after all these centuries, people are still running out of “oil” and having to go to dealers and buy some more. And they miss the party. They miss the miracle. They miss the bridegroom coming.
-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. “Oh, oh, the bridegroom came and went into the wedding banquet and shut the door. Oh, oh, what does that mean? Is the door to heaven closed for some people? Is that what it means?” Yes, that is what it means. The wedding banquet = heaven.
-Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” The five foolish ones wanted to get into the wedding banquet/heavenly party and begged to be admitted.
-But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” These words are harsh but are Biblical. That is, throughout the Scriptures, Jesus has repeatedly taught us about the Son of man and the coming Judgment Day. On that Judgment Day, not everybody is going to get into the door. On that Judgment Day, not everyone is going to get into the heavenly party. That knowledge is always a surprise for some permissive and lenient people who believe that God’s grace should overwhelm his final judgment.
But earlier in the teachings of Jesus, we persistently heard about this divine wrath and punishment of God. We recall in Mathew’s gospel, this theme of judgment in the teachings of Jesus was very clear.
We also have learned from the teachings that we human beings are never to judge who “gets in and who is left out.” That is the role of Christ. Christ is to be the judge. Using the analogy from baseball, the umpire makes the calls and the players do not. The role of the Son of man is to be the judge. That is his role. This is his function. We human beings are the players and not the judges.
See Matthew 11:23-24, Q, page 100, about Jesus’ condemnation of the cities of Chorizin and Bethsaida who refused to repent. Jesus said, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained til this day. But I tell you on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’”
See Matthew 12:31-32, page 109, about the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, “Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” “The age to come” is the Judgment Day.
See Matthew 13:40-43, only Matthew, page 120, about the separation of the weeds from the wheat, “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
See Matthew 13:49, only Matthew, page, 120 about the net and the separation of the fish, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”
All these other Bible verses in Matthew are consistent with Jesus’ teachings via the parable about the ten maidens and the five foolish maidens who were left outside the door to the wedding banquet. The door was shut to them. There will be a final separation, a final division, a final severance.
God/the Son of man will be the divider and judge. That is not our job as human beings. Only God knows the human heart. Only God knows who is “in” and who is “out.”
-Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. This is the warning: we are to be alert at all times for our salvation.
PAINTING AND IMAGINATION: THE TEN MAIDENS, FOOLISH AND WISE
HE QU, Chinese
WILLIAM BLAKE, English
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