I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 25:1-13
C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday November 6th
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1-2 When the end times come, the reign of God will not be an orderly procession but confusion.
3 The “foolish” took no extra oil, perhaps supposing the bridegroom would come quickly.
4 The “wise” took extra oil, perhaps recalling previous instances of delay.
5 They all slept during the delay.
6 Midnight: Time Critical.
7 Everyone gets ready, and puts forward their best light.
8 Should we expect others to share?
9 Are the wise being wise or merely sending the foolish away at the critical moment.
10 It’s midnight. Where would they find a dealer at that hour? This was not a quick trip to the market!
11-12 Some people are motivated by fear of being excluded.
13 Expect the boss to show any time!
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- This is a complete parable. It is the third of five parables that explain people’s reactions to the Son of Man coming at his appointed hour, a teaching that includes all of chapters 24 and 25.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- Some manuscripts expand verse 1 to read “to meet the bridegroom [and the bride].” Although it answers questions about the ceremony, this adds complicates to the allegory, as the bride is otherwise unmentioned.
- Some manuscripts expand verse 13 to “for you know neither the day nor the hour [in which the Son of Man is coming].” Adding this would match similar verse in adjacent parables.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- This parable is the antithesis to the parable of the generous landowner who pays everyone the same, beginning with the last who wait until the last hour to get hired.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- This is a parable in an apocalyptic section, thus the words chosen are likely to be highly symbolic!
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
The foolish maiden would have enough oil in their lamps for a reasonable party if the bridegroom had been on time.
The wise maidens anticipated the bridegroom arriving late, and even after the call at “midnight” they were unsure of his arrival.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: This parable follows a teaching predicated on Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the Temple would be left standing. It answers the question: “When will Jesus come again?” A question of importance when this was written ~30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Emotional Center: Those who expect delay will be ready and will be received. Those who wait until the last moment will be excluded.
- Music: Wagner’s Bridal March would be an interesting background music for this parable!
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- Both the foolish and wise maidens bring lamps with some oil. But how much oil is prudent to bring? Since the wise maidens would not give / share / lend / sell any oil to the foolish, there is no upper limit on how much is enough.
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- There is no grace for those who are unprepared.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
J. Newton Davies (“Matthew”, The Abingdon Bible Commentary, Frederick C. Eiselen, Editor (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press) 1929.) “The all important lesson is inculcated that the Christian must learn to build up reserves of strength and fortitude, so that in all circumstances, favorable and unfavorable, he may cause his light to shine, and thus find the joy of the Lord.”
Reginald H. Fuller (“Matthew”, Harper’s Bible Commentary, James Luther Mays, Editor (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1988.) interprets this as a simple allegory with the Messiah as the Bridegroom and the wise bridesmaids as those who practice better righteousness, fulfilling the Torah, than those who use up their oil.
Benedict Viviano (“The Gospel According to Matthew,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond Brown, et al, eds. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall) 1990.) explains the oil as allegorizing good works which are not completely transferable, explaining the refusal of the wise to give some of their oil to the foolish. “Others can help, but readiness to accept salvation is ultimately a matter of personal responsibility. … The shut door means that admission is not automatic.”
M. Eugene Boring (“The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible , Leander Keck, et al, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon) 1995.) reflects that we can not tell by looking at the bridesmaids that some are foolish and others are wise, for all have their lamps aglow with expectation [and they can not be differentiated by their watchfulness as all fall asleep]. He links their preparedness back to the Sermon on the Mount: being a peacemaker or merciful for a day can be nice, but doing so for a lifetime requires preparedness.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Believers must be ready to persevere as Christ will come in his time, not ours.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
Make ready to demonstrate a changed life for many days as the last day has yet to dawn.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?