Today’s parable of the ten maids waiting for the groom’s arrival is reminiscent of several similar kingdom parables found throughout Matthew’s Gospel. The lessons found in the parables of the talents, the separation of the sheep and goats, and the guests invited to the wedding feast all contain lessons about God’s unfolding plan-God’s reign. The reign of god was made definitive with the birth of Jesus but is not yet fulfilled. Like the disciples in Jesus’ time, we live in the incomplete time between the inception of God’s plan for creation and its completion. These parables reveal to us this “in-between-time” is a time for watchfulness and readiness.
To better grasp the implications of this parable, we must first understand the marriage customs in the Judeo-Galilean world of Jesus’ day. Whole villages followed the wedding drum to celebrate the nuptials. Bartering between the groom and bride’s father could go on for hours, even days. The longer the negotiations, the more the bride was valued and treasured. While the bride, fully arrayed in her wedding garb, stood ready to meet her groom at a moment’s notice, several virgins, most likely chosen by the groom, also waited in readiness for the groom’s arrival. These women formed a welcoming party at the groom’s house or that of this father. The bride would then be brought to the house where a week’s feasting and celebrating would occur. It is easy to understand that long waits during the negotiations were part and parcel of the normal wedding preparations.
Therefore, to be chosen as a part of the groom’s welcoming party without proper lamp oil is not only an insult to the bride, but also negligent on the part of the five foolish bridesmaids.
The sudden and unexpected arrival of the groom in this parable is compared to the surprising and spontaneous arrival of God’s coming. The bridegroom Christ, will come again, inviting all to the heavenly banquet. We will either be prepared to meet the Risen One or will have foolishly failed to live in anticipation of this encounter.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Gaspar Masilamani, CMF