Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Third Sunday before Advent
Matthew 25 v 1-13:
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share an experience of being unprepared for or missing out on something important. Why weren’t you ready?
Have you waited for the bus and it hasn’t arrived as expected? … maybe, you didn’t check the latest timetable …or it had been re-scheduled ! … and you end up missing your connection, or appointment!
Reflection on the text
Being un-prepared is not the same as being taken by surprise. We may be expecting an event and be ready for it, even if we do not know the timing: it can still shock us when it happens.
Traditionally, this story is understood to be about the return of Jesus – at the ‘second coming’. ‘The day of the Lord’ and ‘the end of the Age’ are recurring themes in the Bible, when God will come in judgement, to vindicate the faithful and punish evil. Indeed this is part of the historic Christian creeds. But what does it mean?
The first Christians believed that Christ would return very soon, but that belief was later adapted, to the reality of his apparent delay: now, 2000 years later, are we still waiting?
If Matthew’s gospel was written (as most commentators suggest) a decade after the trauma of the Jewish war of AD 66-70, its devastating consequences would be all too apparent to the Jewish people. The destruction of the temple and the ending of its priesthood, rituals and services after so many centuries of continuity, together with the appalling suffering of the people, must have been seen as powerful portents of the ‘end times’. The warnings of the prophets, and more recently by Jesus as he wept over the city (Luke 19:41), had not been heeded and the foretold judgement had come! To be ready to give account to God personally and as ‘kingdom’ communities needed little encouragement!
But this parable has several levels of interpretation and application. Jesus warns his disciples to be ready for him at any time and not just in the cataclysmic events of history or ‘at the end of the age’. This is his challenge to live the kingdom life consistently, to be prepared to meet Christ in the unexpected encounter with people day by day; to recognise him in the stranger, the hungry, and the homeless. It is to live together as an authentic sign and agents of Christ’s peace and justice in this troubled world, in its pains and traumas, and always to be ready to love and to serve. We can so easily be caught off guard. This is not a special ‘one off’ spruce-up for his arrival, getting bags packed and ready for heaven!
‘Being ready for his coming’ may mean preparedness for our own deaths, and an incentive to live holy lives.
some questions for group discussion:
- In what ways should we ‘be prepared’?
- If Christ were to return this evening, what would you personally and as a community of faith do today to prepare? Would you do anything differently from the norm?
- As nearly 2000 years have passed since Jesus spoke these words, is the traditional belief about Christ’s return still important? How fundamental to Christian belief and practice is the declaration that ‘Christ will come again’? What does this mean in terms of the God’s reign?
- What does it mean when the foolish girls return to the wedding feast and find the doors shut?
We recommend you use the litany at http://liturgyoutside.net/Pr27OT32P25Outside.html
- The preceding chapter, Matthew 24, sets today’s parable, and the two that follow, in the context of Jesus’ teaching about ‘signs of the end of the Age’ and Christ’s Coming (the Parousia). This provides many fringe sects, literalists and fundamentalists with ample material to support their claims to know precisely what is going to happen, and when.
Belief in Christ’s sudden return was basic to the first century Christian belief.
St Paul, the earliest New Testament writer, expresses this belief in his letters. See 1 Thessalonians 4.13 - 5.11; 2 Thessalonians 1.7-10 and 2. 1-12, and 1 Corinthians 15.24ff. See also 1 Peter 1.3-5 and 4.5-7, and 2 Peter 31-17.
For further discussion: Was this basic belief ever modified (as suggested by 2 Peter 3.3ff) and adapted by the early church, as some might suggest?
- For some helpful insights on the text see the comments by Brian Stoffregen of Faith Lutheran Church, Marysville on the Crossmarks website at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt25x1.htm