This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” Matthew 25:13
Stephen was in plenty of time for his train – almost an hour early. So he settled down to wait with a paper and coffee. After a while there was an announcement that there had been signalling problems and the train’s departure would be delayed by approximately twenty minutes. With a sigh Stephen went back to his paper and the crossword.
He must have dozed off because he suddenly became aware of the announcement that his train would be leaving in five minutes. With a shock and a feeling of panic Stephen realised that he had not left himself time to buy a ticket. Calling himself all sorts of names for not having had the sense to buy a ticket first and then have coffee, he ran to the ticket offices, all of which had long queues snaking away from the windows. He had no change for the machines.
There was nothing he could do – even if he had the time he couldn’t get a ticket off anyone else – the only solution was to run and jump on the train and face the music when tickets were checked. He ran as fast as he could but the station was crowded and his bag was heavy. He got to the platform gates only to see the train disappear out of the station. Too late, he’d missed it – it had gone without him.
The parable Jesus tells about the bridesmaids is a wake up call to his followers to make sure they are always ready for his return.
Jewish weddings were carried out with joyful celebrations that could last for a week or more with no set time for the bridegroom to come to the bride’s home for the feast or take her to his home to have the feast there. Everyone needed to be ready for this exciting procession at any time.
In this story there is some sort of delay so the bridegroom is later than usual and all the bridesmaids who would escort the bridegroom into the feast fall asleep while they are waiting. The parable is not critical about this falling asleep but when the women are woken up by the arrival of the bridegroom we see the difference between the two groups – the foolish and the wise. The wise ones have equipped themselves with enough oil to keep their torches burning however long they had to wait. The other ones had not thought that far ahead and had only brought a small supply of oil. Here is the judgment of the parable. The five foolish women have left it too late to prepare and be ready for something they knew was going to happen at some time.
Keep awake, says Jesus, be ready because you don’t know when you’re going to be called upon to meet me – all you know is that you will be so called at some time.
We don’t want to miss the train or be excluded from the party. Perhaps after two thousand years it’s hard to believe that the Son of Man may return at any moment but that is the message of today’s Gospel and we would place ourselves among the foolish if we fail to heed that message.
Being ready to catch a train is quite simple. You know what time it’s supposed to leave and you can buy a ticket in advance.
Being ready in the way Jesus means it though is not so simple. It’s unlikely that any of us feel that we’d be truly ready for his arrival – we don’t know what to expect, or when, and most of us are only too aware of our un-readiness, our failings and weaknesses.
What we can do, though, is to be always on the journey of preparation. We can always be looking for ways to grow spiritually and towards becoming the people God means us to be. We can always be learning more about God, about the message of Jesus and about living out that message in our daily lives.
Jesus encourages us to watch and wait, from this day on, until he comes and he urges us to see that in the end each of us has to be ready – it will not be enough to claim church membership or an important position like the bridesmaids at the wedding. What will matter will be where we are in our journey of faith as we come face to face with the one who calls us on that journey.
1. The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids tell us that Jesus, as the bridegroom, will return at some time.
2. We do not know when it is that he will return so we need to be ready at all times.
3. We cannot borrow other people’s faith but have to learn for ourselves what it means to watch, wait and prepare for our encounter with God in Jesus.
We bring our prayers for the church, the world and our communities to our wise and loving Father who is always ready to hear us and to act in and through our lives.
Heavenly Father we pray for ourselves and for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Give us the wisdom and determination to keep ourselves faithful to the love you show to us in the life of Jesus, your son and our living Lord.
Heavenly Father, we pray for the nations of this world. Turn us away from the foolish roads we follow which lead only to conflict, injustice and oppression. Show us your ways of wisdom that we may learn to be at peace in a world governed by justice for all your children.
Heavenly Father we pray for all in our community who live and wait with distressing uncertainty. We pray for those who are unemployed and looking for work; for people who are homeless, living in poverty and waiting to find security and the means to buy food and clothes.
Heavenly Father, we pray for all we know who live and wait in the darkness of illness, pain and bereavement and for all who face the ending of their lives in this world. Be a comforting presence alongside them and give them the assurance of your love, strength and peace.
Father we commit into your hands those for whom we have prayed today. We ask that you will forgive our foolishness, bless us with wisdom and speak to us as we seek to know your will for our lives. We offer these prayers to you in the name of your son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.