12 November 2017

A dark night: Matthew 25.1-13

Lectionary Bible readings RCL Proper 27 Year A

Amos 5.18-24
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
Matthew 25.1-13

We explore:
what it means to be prepared; challenging complacency; living for tomorrow, today.


Old Testament: Amos 5.18-24

The prophet Amos is concerned about the reality of God’s presence in Israel. Sure, Israel is faithful in its worship, but something is missing. There is a gap between action and words. The prophet contrasts light and dark, in which darkness is a time of danger and people cannot work (v.18).

The image is of a misplaced search for security, leaping (as we might say) out of the frying pan and into the fire (v.19). For Amos, the day of the Lord will be as dangerous as it is glorious. He emphasises the day of the Lord as a time when judgement precedes redemption. After Amos has spoken, it is as if his hearers respond by saying, ‘See how faithful we are in our religious practices’ – but that is the problem. Religion has become an inoculation that allows them to carry on as before, a place of security rather than transformation. Amos challenges the attempt to undo the radical demands of God’s Covenant (vv.21-22). Religion has become a screen that obscures revelation; it has become self-justifying. Israel’s commitment to worship, without the corresponding commitment to justice and righteousness (v.24), has distorted their understanding of God. Amos is reminding them that God is not as they imagine. God is not a bigger, better version of themselves; rather they are called to be like God.

Gospel Matthew 25.1-13

This week we have a parable about being ready. The context is a wedding, and specifically the bridesmaids. But we mustn’t think of modern wedding practices when we think of the bridesmaids. It is not easy to be sure of their precise duties, but it is clear from the story that these bridesmaids were there to receive and escort the groom to his bride. In Jesus’ story, the groom (for some unstated and unknown reason) is delayed for a significant period of time (v.5). But keep in mind that the story is about being prepared and ready. When, finally, the groom arrives, five of the bridesmaids are not ready – it is dark, and they have no oil for their lamps (v.8) – so they cannot escort him.

The problem was not that they were asleep (even though this is mentioned), but that they were not ready in the first place, and not prepared for any delay either. But their rejection by the groom is devastating, for he would have known the wedding party (vv.11-12). Are there echoes here of Matthew 7.23? Finally, ‘keep awake therefore’ sits rather oddly – even the wise girls were asleep when the groom arrived. It is not wakefulness but readiness that is important to the story. (Perhaps we are meant to infer that if there hadn’t been a delay they would have had time to go and buy some oil; or, that if they had stayed awake they may have realised their mistake in time to fix the problem.)

There are three surprises in this parable. First, outwardly, all the bridesmaids look the same, but clearly they are not. Second, not everything can be borrowed or shared; some things we have to do for ourselves. Finally, there is a moment when, no matter what, it is too late – the time has passed, the moment has gone. 

The links between the lectionary readings

How confident are you about the future? All three readings are concerned for the future. This concern is never abstract or speculative, but is rooted in the experience of the present. Consequently, Amos is highly critical of an Israel who is all about the present, and for whom the future is too distant for its concerns to become a force for change in the present. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is writing to some of the very earliest Christians who, because of the deaths of some of their number, have become unsettled about the future – about the meaning of resurrection, and how it might relate to the ‘here and now’. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses a parable to speak about being ready now for a future that is about to break in –  but at an unspecified moment, which may be immediate, or may not be for some time. The parable asks: Are you ready for both possibilities?

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com


A personal prayer

Loving God, so often I feel unprepared for the day ahead and all its demands. I’m distracted when I try to worship – with other things buzzing in my head. I’m complacent about the relationships that make my life special – taking friends and family for granted. Help me to be more focused on you, that I may take the days in my stride, embracing both the holy and the ordinary in my prayers, and ready to listen, to serve and to provide for those around me. I ask this in Jesus’ name. 

A way into prayer

God of all time and all opportunities,
please be where today and tomorrow merge and become my ‘now’. 
Help me to prepare for each task, and show me how to be more like your Son,
that your will may be done – 
joy by joy,
tear by tear,
day by day,
year by year. 

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com


How well prepared are you for tomorrow?  © ROOTSfor Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. 

How well prepared are you for tomorrow? 

© ROOTSfor Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission.