Sunday, November 06, 2011

A wedding parable

"The Foolish Virgins" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open up to us!' But He answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, "I do not know you"'" - Matthew 25:11-12

In this story Jesus compares His second coming to part of a wedding celebration. Barnes' Notes on the Bible explain the local customs to which this parable refers:

Lamps: "The "lamps" used on such occasions were rather "torches" or "flambeaux." They were made by winding rags around pieces of iron or earthenware, sometimes hollowed so as to contain oil, and fastened to handles of wood. These torches were dipped in oil, and gave a large light."

Marriage ceremonies: "Marriage 'ceremonies' in the East were conducted with great pomp and solemnity. The ceremony of marriage was performed commonly in the open air, on the banks of a stream. Both the bridegroom and bride were attended by friends. They were escorted in a palanquin, carried by four or more persons. After the ceremony of marriage succeeded a feast of seven days if the bride was a virgin, or three days if she was a widow. This feast was celebrated in her father's house. At the end of that time the bridegroom conducted the bride with great pomp and splendor to his own home."

Night: "This was done in the evening, or at night (Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11). Many friends and relations attended them; and besides those who went with them from the house of the bride, there was another company that came out from the house of the bridegroom to meet them and welcome them."

Virgins: "These were probably female friends and relatives of the bridegroom, who went out to welcome him and his new companion to their home. These are the virgins mentioned in this parable. Not knowing precisely the time when the procession would come, they probably went out early, and waited until they should see indications of its approach." (Read Barnes'  complete notes and more commentaries on this passage here.)
Five of the virgins in Jesus' story were wise in that they had taken extra oil in containers besides the oil in their lamps and were in good shape even if he was delayed. The five foolish virgins were not ready for delay. I believe this has several applications for us:

1. Live expectant. Even though we don't know His (Jesus, the bridegroom's) timing, we need to live expectant that He will return.

2. But also live in the now. While we wait, it's important that we steward our salvation and the resources to spread its good news— the "oil" of the parable. As we saw yesterday, the servants or stewards that pleased their master were the ones who kept busy doing their duty in the Master's household while He was away. Here the wise are the ones who are prepared even if the master delays his coming.

3. Accept Christ now, before it is too late. The tragedy of the story is the foolish virgins who are so busy buying oil that they miss the bridegroom's return and when they arrive at the party, are shut out (Matthew 25:12). A footnote in my Bible about verse 12 says, "At Jesus' return it is too late to receive Him as Lord and Saviour" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1336.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of your coming—both as a joyous expectation fulfilled, and a time of tragedy because some are unprepared. Help me to take its cautions to heart for myself and those around me. Amen.

MORE: Wedding customs

Wedding customs around the world are colorful, interesting, and give us insightful pictures of the various aspects of marriage:

Africa: "Depending on which part of Africa you are in, wedding ceremonies can be extremely elaborate, some lasting many days. Often huge ceremonies are held during which many couples are united at the same time." Read more... 

India: "In India and other countries with a Hindu culture it is considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other for several days before the wedding. As part of the marriage ceremony the bride’s parents wash the couple’s feet with milk and water as a symbol of purifying them for the journey of their new life together. As part of the ceremony the couple holds in their hands grains of rice and oats and green leaves, signifying wealth, good health and happiness." Read more... 

Russian Orthodox: "When a traditional Orthodox couple get married in Russia, they are crowned as royalty for the day. The bride and groom must stand on a special carpet as they recite their marriage vows, but first they race each other to it. Whoever reaches the carpet first will, presumably, be the head of the household." Read more...

Read about many more wedding traditions at World Wedding Traditions.

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