19 March 2023
Well here we are keeping the “wedding” motive continuing. It’s funny that both Roger and Peter said wait until we get to the parable of the foolish bridesmaids after last Sunday and I replied – yeap we’re heading there next!
This is another Kingdom of Heaven parable, but Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven differently – it is not “is like” but is “will be like”. So, the Kingdom is here.
There is a lot of symbolism in this parable. To have lit or unlit lamps is really neither here nor there in the reality of a wedding ceremony but in the Bible the idea of a lit lamp symbolises good deeds. There are a lot of references to ‘a lamp unto my feet’, ‘not to hide your lamp under a bushel’ and so on. The lamps possibly refer to being prepared with good deeds on Judgement Day.
We need to remember that Matthew was writing to a sect of Jews in a time after the Romans had crushed the Jewish uprising and the temple had been destroyed by their oppressors. It is as if he is saying: keep doing good deeds, keep the faith despite feeling small and threatened in your faith. Look what happens when you do not light the lamp of faith!
Yet somehow this parable contradicts much of what Jesus preaches throughout his ministry where the door is shut and if you knock then it will be opened. Here, quite clearly the door remains shut to those who knock. There are also a number of frequent references to ‘gnashing of teeth’ and the idea of being ‘thrown into outer darkness’. What is happening when on the one hand you have a gospel of forgiveness and on the other such terrifying consequences?
Matthew was written in a society that was very frightened, especially the early Christian communities. They were expecting Jesus’ imminent return and so the need to be ready was paramount. Matthew shapes his parables towards this interpretation of Jesus’ words. Fear can work very effectively to change behaviour, up to a point and with a cost.
One way to interpret this parable is simply to recognise there are choices to make, there are things for which we must be prepared, and in many ways, we are responsible for those choices for ourselves. No one is forced into heaven, or into anywhere else, and however we choose to live, we are responsible for the consequences of our choices.