The Kingdom Is A Wedding Feast
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the second week of our series on A World Beyond we ponder the beauty of a wedding feast (Mt. 25: 1-13) where the ten virgins represent Christians waiting for Christ. He may be slow in coming but they must be watchful and keep their lamps burning. Jesus’ burning concern for the Kingdom and his desire to find new and creative ways to describe it is striking. The reality of this Kingdom must be so intensely rich and multi-layered that even human language used by the Word Incarnate cannot fully describe it. How could it be otherwise since the Kingdom of God is nothing less than the full participation in the very life of God? Only the Son can reveal this to humankind.
This Parable of the Ten Virgins is only found in Matthew and so must have held a special significance in his vision of the Kingdom. He goes on to say, “Then the Kingdom will be like…” He gives one the impression that its eruption into our human world is around the corner. This idea of a marriage feast is not like the Kingdom but the Kingdom is a Marriage Feast.
Jesus says that these ten virgins do not go out to meet a bridegroom, but the Bridegroom, and this encounter is what the kingdom will be like. It is mysterious that there is no mention of a bride. The Bridegroom comes to marry you. The very heart of the parable is readiness and willingness to engage in a wedding, and having enough oil to generate light. The parable is eschatological, meaning it has to do with Last Things as the Church calls it. It is pointing towards end times and our need to be ready and watching. The lamps represent the intentions of the virgins, but this is not enough; it is essential to have oil. On the last day we need to offer more than just good intentions and it is more than good works that Jesus is speaking about. He is not asking that we be activists, always running around, which may be just a waste of time. It is not the one who says, Lord, Lord or the one who does visible deeds who has the oil.
The oil represents those who say not my will but God’s be done, or Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. The oil represents something deep inside of us that is done not for others or something based on my strength. A heroic act of self-surrender can save the world. The oil comes when a person acts on the words of Christ, not on his/her own desires or interests.
The Bridegroom comes unexpectedly and everyone is caught off guard. Death comes in the same way. The virgins are bleary-eyed, with unkempt hair and there is no time for anything. Each virgin offers herself and what she has done throughout her lifetime. Has she radiated the capacity for love away from herself and toward others by acts of self-surrender? In other words, does she have purity of heart? They are the ones who see God.
The crux of the parable though is why don’t the wise virgins share with the foolish ones? If we are to carry one another’s burdens and give away our second coat why wouldn’t they share the oil? Each of us plays a part in the Body of Christ; we don’t all have the same responsibilities. The foolish virgins cannot be spiritual freeloaders. They cannot pinch anyone’s oil. They lack self-knowledge of their own uniqueness and responsibility. It is not possible for someone to say to the Bridegroom for us, “I love you.” Our deepest identity cannot be shared or pretended. No one can say to the foot, today be a hand; this is delusional.
The parable wants to prepare us so that God does not say, “I do not know you!” You cannot offer a borrowed facsimile of love to the Bridegroom; it has to be from the heart. Each one has to show him/herself for what we have become; what we allowed God to make of us. The Bridegroom wants to see a very unique face, not a generic one that can be used by others; he wants to see only yours.
The end times will be like opening night in the theater. For weeks or months you can make mistakes but when the curtain goes up you need to do the parts given to you. The parable points to the end times and comes as a wake up call. What does Jesus say at the end, “Watch, you know neither the day nor the hour.” Watch and be ready. Accumulate oil for your encounter with the Bridegroom.