“The Questions of a Delayed Wedding Feast”

Kurt Jacobson
6 min readNov 12, 2023

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November 12, 2023

Matthew 25:1–13

In Jesus’ day weddings encompassed whole communities. The bridesmaids role began with the bride as she waited for the groom to arrive at her home. When he arrived, the bridesmaids would lead a procession back to the groom’s home where the ceremony and festivities would occur. If the groom arrived late, the procession might occur in the dark and the bridesmaids would have lamps to light the way.

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. ****

The other day I was the presenter at a noontime Christian education series for adults entitled “Our Neighbor’s Faith.” The topic was the Mormon church — officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Each Wednesday about fifty people gather at the church of which I’m a part for a lite lunch and the presentation. This level of interest raises my hopes that attracting adults to educational opportunities in Lutheran Churches is still possible.

The Mormons have a curious history which begins in 1820 when the 14 year old Pennsylvania boy Joseph Smith asked Jesus which church he should join. Jesus told him that Christianity had fallen off the path most pleasing to God and that he should join none of its denominations.

Three years later the Angel Moroni told Smith about golden plates that were buried in a stone box a few miles from Smith’s home. Four years later Smith received the plates from the angel Moroni and translated them into the Book of Mormon and therein began a “Christian restorationist movement” with certain distinctive beliefs and practices unfamiliar to Christians.

Initially, the Mormons dabbled with different names before landing on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when it was reported God decreed it in 1834. Mormons understand “latter-day” as the teaching that adherents are living in the “latter days”, before the Second Coming of Christ. The title is also aims to distinguish the Mormons from other churches, as they consider themselves the restoration of the ancient Christian church.

In reality, all Christians are living in the time before the second coming of Christ. The parable of the bridesmaids clearly testifies to the truth that we all are waiting for God, leaving me to say that the Mormons don’t have a corner on this concept despite the “latter-day” dimension to their name.

This parable, confusing and dark as it is, offers an ominous story of a delayed wedding feast and the exclusion of the unprepared intended to be a wake up call. To instruct his readers, Matthew delineates between two types of waiting — wise and foolish. Using the bridesmaids as an example, the wise come with extra lamp oil. The foolish do not. They were not prepared for the longer, unexpected wait. There are many interpretative possibilities for the parable of the bridesmaids.

We live in a world that is continuously upended and uncertain, cycling through brief and bright moments of hopeful optimism in between longer slogs of chaos and frustration. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a season of waiting and we do not know how long it will last or what the ending will even look like.

This parable is far from the notions of grace, mercy and inclusion that are so often present in Jesus’ teachings. There is no cheerful declaration that the last are first in this story.

Our modern ideas of weddings don’t help us understand what’s going on in this parable. The role of the bridesmaids in welcoming the bridegroom is one that doesn’t resonate. And while the five apparently foolish bridesmaids take the blame in this story, missing out on the banquet as a result, the bridegroom faces no consequences for leaving ten women alone in the night far past his expected arrival time. Not to mention that after making everyone wait for so long, the bridegroom doesn’t even wait long enough for the five oil-deprived bridesmaids to return. Nor do the five wise bridesmaids catch any flack for their lack of generosity toward the others.

All these pieces of the parable are troubling and I don’t have answers to the questions, they chafe more than usual right now.

Are we meant to conclude then that our invitation to the kingdom of God hinges on hoarding supplies and prioritizing self-preservation over the collective good? Why didn’t the ‘wise’ bridesmaids share their oil? I am troubled by their stinginess. It had significant consequences. The five who had to go buy oil missed the party. They were locked out.

Scarcity is not a thing in God’s kingdom. Smug in their own preparedness and wisdom, the “wise” bridesmaids forget all about mercy, empathy, kinship, and hospitality. They forget that the point of a wedding is celebration. Gathering. Communing. Joining. Sharing. It does not occur to them that their stinginess has consequences. That it sends their five companions stumbling into the midnight darkness. That it diminishes the wedding, depriving the bridal couple and their remaining guests of five lively, caring companions.

I am not sure what it will take for us Christians to live fully into the abundance of God, even while we wait. But our assumptions about scarcity are killing us. We are so afraid of emptiness, we worship excess. We are so worried about opening the doors of our hearts and faith communities too wide, we guard them closely. We are so obsessed with our own rightness before God, we forget that “rightness” divorced from love is always wrong. We live in dread that there will not be enough to spare. Enough grace. Enough freedom. Enough forgiveness. Enough mercy. Somehow, we would leave people out in the dark than give up the illusion of our own brightness.

What would it be like to stop? To stop all of this. What would it be like to care more about the emptiness in our neighbor’s lamp than the brimming fullness of our own?

Finally, as the parable ends with harsh words of exclusion I ask: what if Jesus is not the door slammer? It is possible, given the context in which Matthew’s Gospel was written, that Jesus is not the bridegroom in this parable. We know that the Matthean “Jesus movement” of the first century was in conflict with local religious leaders who considered their Christian peers heretical and deviant. It is likely that there was much discussion around who belonged and who didn’t, who was “in” with God, and who wasn’t.

Sound familiar? One of the great tragedies of the Christian story across history is that we are better known for policing our borders than for welcoming our neighbors. We are quick to say, “I don’t know you,” to those who believe or practice differently than we do. We feel safer and more pious behind closed doors than we are with open arms. Maybe this parable is showing us the ugliness of the closed door.

As I wrote at the start, there are many interpretative possibilities for the parable of the bridesmaids. Other angles. Other facets. Other questions to ask and challenges to ponder. Which ones speak to you? Where do you see yourself in the story, and where do you see Jesus? Locate yourself and locate him. Start talking. The doors are open and the wedding hall is full of holy light. This is the place to begin.

Images: 1)oneclimbs.com/2020/02/28/ 2)goodnewsshared.wordpress.com/tag/matthew-251–13–2/

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.