31 August. Friday of Week Twenty One
1 Cor 1:17ff. The mystery of the cross is wiser than human intelligence, stronger than human power.
Matthew 25:1ff. The bridesmaids must be ready to receive the bridegroom when he comes.
The Pitfalls of Eschatology
Jesus points out that not all even of God’s specially chosen people are assured of salvation. Only five of the ten bridesmaids welcomed the bridal party; five others were told, “I do not know you.” The interpretation of this parable must have developed within early Christian history. When first speaking it, Jesus warned that salvation is not achieved through the perfect observance of law and tradition. In this he was in direct 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, since “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” In the parable of the bridesmaids, Jesus was not saying anything radically new, only imparting a greater urgency to the oft repeated prophetic challenge.
When Matthew wrote his gospel, a controversy was raging between Christian Jews and Pharisaic Jews. The former saw themselves as genuine disciples both of Moses and of Jesus, while the latter condemned them as traitors to Moses. Some of the chosen people had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, while others did not. He had come and some were not ready. Already in Matthew’s time, the interpretation of the parable was evolving; his Christians faced the question of when to expect the second coming of Jesus. Now the moral is, “Keep your eyes open, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Being a Christian was no absolute guarantee of being ready to welcome Jesus on his return.
As we re-read this gospel passage, we sense the pathos and tragedy of the five foolish bridesmaids. They did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off asleep. While many excuses may explain the failure, they let a vital opportunity pass them by. We need the repeated reminder, “watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.”
Like the Corinthians, we too can look for salvation but misread its message. In an effort to adapt to their Greek culture and values, they would have tended to banish the cross of Jesus from memory and from preaching. The central Christian event seems a stumbling block to some and an absurdity to others. The cross is too bleak and self-renouncing, particularly among the cultured class who gloried in the perfect male and female body, as we find in ancient Greek sculpture. Among the Jews who worshipped a living God and permitted no dying or diseased person in their synagogue, a crucified Messiah was intolerable. His cross cuts clean and deep and reveals emotions and intuitions otherwise hidden from the wise and prudent. Without the cross we are lulled to sleep and will never be ready to receive the Master on his return.
First Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25
For 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.
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
“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.