31Aug 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.

3 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    In our fallen nature we are in ourselves a contradiction to the Will of God, our hearts are broken, distorted and sinful and continually offend Him, for a Christian only humility (St. Bernard-Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is abases himself) and trust in his beloved Son can shield us from His anger
    Jesus says in regards to John the Baptist.
    “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he “Those in heaven are in a state of perfect communion with God. In the Lords pray we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Those in heaven are in a state of perfect communion with God. While John lived in the flesh (like us) he was flawed only on his physical death is the action of redeeming grace completed not before.
    Our Fathers Word (Will) cannot contradict its self and that is why it is so beautiful, because the reality is that truth and love are one and the same. Truth sets the heart (love) aflame.
    When we EAT, consume, absorb, (truly understand) the teachings, sayings of his beloved Son Jesus Christ and they start to live within our heart, (Truth kindles love) we cannot help but feel compassion (love) for our neighbour because in him we see our own fallen selves and the first commandment drawers the second (to love ones neighbour as oneself) to itself because it is based on truth/love.
    I have heard the expression that we are a work in progress and so we are, the Spirit of our Father continually struggles with us (beats us blow upon blow until in our heart are true self we truly know)as Jesus in his infinite compassion and gentleness is absorbed into our being and we can eventually cry out Father! Not my will but thy Will be done.

    Please consider reading my article Aug17th, Key http://www.v2catholic.com
    A poetic meditation. (The Holy Spirits struggle to enlighten mankind throughout the ages and the concept of the soul as a known reality within different cultures.)

    In Christ

  2. Ann Lardeur

    This gospel passage always puzzles me as whilst the message is clear, the story has very peculiar features, about which I would like to know more. (However, author of thoughts on the readings, it was not the five foolish that simply nodded off. It was all of them.)
    I wonder why they took no oil. Was it the custom that oil was provided and the wise ones brought some spare ‘just in case’? Secondly why are the BRIDESmaids attached to the groom? Should they not be groomsmen? Final thought …. did they go to the all-night Tesco?

  3. Eddie Finnegan

    Clearly a parable to gladden the hearts of the “pro multis” brigade as against those of the “pro cunctis omnibusque” persuasion. Except that here the “multae virgines” are only 50% of the wedding retinue. Ann, you’re right – they’re all allowed to nod off as long as they remember their oilcans. Trust the gombeen men and hucksters to profit from the emergency. No doubt they had the oil futures market all sorted. And why couldn’t two virgins share one lamp?
    Once again, a simple parable from the Nazarene, unfortunately hermeneuticised ad absurdum over the following 2,000 years? The shrewd and the selfish, not the meek and slightly forgetful, will inherit the earth, the Kingdom and the wedding reception.