You may feel justified in asking why the gospel reading for Remembrance Sunday is about ten bridesmaids. Of course, the true message is not about the conduct of weddings, rather, it is about wisdom and foolishness. Instead of being a diverting anecdote, this is a potentially life-changing challenge.
Every culture has its own way of celebrating marriage. In the Middle East, contemporary wedding customs are very similar to those described in today’s gospel reading – there are torchlight processions late into the evening. It is common for wedding celebrations to take place in stages – with the bridegroom, rather than the bride, being delayed as he progresses from venue to venue. Part of the same tradition involves the bridegroom being greeted, when he finally arrives, by the ever-watchful bridesmaids.
It is in this context that Jesus is giving us another one of his warnings of the need to be ready.
This parable is rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition which contrasts wisdom and folly … that is, recognizing the difference between acting in a sensible and responsible way, and acting in a silly and self-interested manner. Jesus’ two groups of bridesmaids represent wisdom and folly, but now there is a sense of urgency because Jesus himself is the bridegroom.
Jesus is challenging us to choose which group is for us.
Will we choose wisdom, and be ready to celebrate the arrival of the bridegroom?
Or will we choose folly, ignoring the reality of what might suddenly come upon us?
Then comes the uncomfortable twist at the end of the parable … the words I don’t know you are very difficult indeed. Jesus is challenging our complacency … he is giving us a stark wake-up call!
Jesus knows that waiting is boring and that human beings are weak and easily distracted. The rejection of those who did not use the waiting time wisely is meant to wake us up to the reality of our Christian calling.
Today is Remembrance Sunday. Today we remember those who fought and paid the ultimate price in times of conflict and war.
Many of those who have served in the armed forces will have stories of how they passed their time whilst on guard duty. Some of those anecdotal antics will have had just one purpose … to keep those reluctant guards awake and alert. Figuratively speaking, they kept their lamps constantly charged because they knew that their lives, and those of their comrades, depended on their readiness.
So, here we are, 2000 years after Jesus told his parable of ten bridesmaids, and we are being reminded to ask ourselves: What does it mean for us?
We can view this parable on a superficial level, considering how we should live our lives within the society that nourishes and protects us.
But I believe that Jesus is really challenging us to consider our spiritual well-being … our spiritual readiness for his return.
As Christians we describe ourselves as people of hope, the hope that is graciously extended to us through the self-sacrifice of God’s own Son. But, given the condition of this troubled and divided world, we need to think about how we feed and nurture that hope.
Do we become part of a worshipping community;
do we recognize the importance of prayer;
do we engage with scripture on a regular basis?
Are we prepared to go out of our way to share the love of Christ with others … and not just with those closest to us?
As part of any Act of Remembrance
we observe two minutes of silence.
What do you think of during that time?
How do you use those two minutes?
That two minutes is a mark of respect … such a brief time out of our busy lives … just two minutes, compared to the eternity of sacrifice that it represents.
Those two minutes are an opportunity to remember.
For some this will be the remembrance of specific individuals;
for others it will be more abstract and general.
But … how many of us will also use some of that short time of silence to look forward
… to look forward in hope?
To look forward to a better world;
a world ready to share Christ’s love with all;
a world able to turn the other cheek;
a world that is constantly ready for the moment of Jesus’ return?
Matthew’s gospel opens with the wise attending the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. As the gospel draws to a close the wise reappear … they are the ones who are ever-ready to lead the procession of light for the heavenly bridegroom, whenever and wherever he might appear.
Are we wise enough to attend to the experiences and deadlines of daily life, and … at the same time … seek after the God who offers us the gracious gift of a share in his eternal joy and peace?
Or … are we content to travel with the foolish and the unprepared … happy to live out our own dreams, no matter how destructive they may be to ourselves and others?