Joy of the Gospel: Bridesmaids, wise and otherwise….Matthew 25: 1-13
A wedding in Jesus’ time was a marvellous opportunity for a super-party. The celebrations lasted for days, usually a week or more. Marriages were arranged by parents to join extended families rather than two individuals. At the wedding feast of Cana Jesus changed about sixty gallons of water into premium wine. The bride and groom didn’t go away on honeymoon the next day to a posh resort for a week or two. Rather, they stayed home and threw a party that lasted for days. It would be the most joy-filled time of their lives. We can understand the disappointment of the five bridesmaids who neglected to oil up their lamps. Instead of partying with all their friends for the week they were sent home and missed all the fun. Did their neglect merit such harsh punishment? Where is the story going?
This is one of Jesus’ finest parables, and it was depicted often by artists in the Middle Ages. Tourists to Paris and Rheims can discover sculptures in stone telling the story. Jesus himself is in the middle depicted as the bridegroom. On his left are five stillborn-looking bridesmaids, their eyes staring blindly at their lifeless lamps, while to his right are five lively bridesmaids joyfully living the life of the kingdom where, in Jesus’ words, “the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised.” The parable is addressed to all of us. God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son . . . John 3:15.
For older commentators the parable was about preparing for death or the end of the world. I think it’s more about hope and joy rather than fear and guilt. The wise bridesmaids who went off dancing to the feast remind me of the “joy of the Gospel filling the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 1). And maybe the other group reflects ‘the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart and the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures.’ Joy of the Gospel, 2. The half dozen pages that comprise this first chapter of Pope Francis’ Letter can be read in half an hour, but there’s rich material for prayer and reflection in it for half a lifetime.
In a sober moment Francis notes that “Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met.” He points out that joy doesn’t come easily: “To some extent our technological society multiplies occasions of pleasure, yet finds it difficult to engender joy.” Joy of the Gospel, 7. Medieval commentators like Gregory the Great saw the unwise bridesmaids as a type of those who grimly struggle with the commandments, and the others as exemplifying the life and joy of the beatitudes. An experienced encounter with Christ makes all the difference. “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Pope Benedict xvi, God is Love, 1.
Fr. QQ – 15th Nov 2023