November 11, 2005
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The End As Happy
1. Today we read "The Parable Of The Ten Virgins" which is written in chapter twenty-five of The Gospel According To Matthew. This parabolic tale has to do with the end time. The Bible teaches that there is a beginning and there is an ending to this world. This world, so filled with absurdities, will not continue on for ever. Just ago we recited The Apostles' Creed together. In it the statement of "[He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,] whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead" can be found. The one coming from [heaven] is Christ. Christ will come at the last day, and bring order into the world. That means he will "judge" it. That time is coming.
2. Although there are some people who haven't felt [these spiritual truths] click all together, since "the end of the world" and "the second coming of Christ at the end times" both are not situations that can be deduced out of every day life experiences. But even without speaking about "the end of the world as we know it," there is an "end" with which we are quite familiar, and it has to do with every single person. That would be the end of our individual lives.
3. Today we are observing a service day for the saints, but on this day's service we offer it in remembrance of those whose lives are already ended. One thing for sure is that our own lives will meet a similar end some day soon. Without turning our attention to that truth, I don't think we can observe a memorial service. With that specification in mind, today's passage of scripture, which speaks of "the end," has very much to do with each one of us here in this place.
4. Well, the act of turning our attention to the end, generally speaking, is quite a dreadful thing to do. Therefore, even this passage of scripture could also be read as "a dreadful thing that will take place at the end of days." For anyone who reads it that way verses eleven and twelve in particular out of today's passage will stick in his or her mind. "After that, the other virgins also came and said, 'Master, master, please open up.' But the master answered them, 'I truly say to you. I do not know you.'," (verses eleven and twelve). It certainly is dreadful because they have been kept locked outside. But is striking terror in one's heart like that and turning one's attention to the end really the right thing to do? Did Jesus tell this parable hoping for this kind of [result]?
5. In truth, there is an important point in this parable all its own. It says that "a wedding ceremony" forms the setting for it. If we take up just the last part alone without noticing this point, then we'll mishear the unique message of this parable.
6. It is a wedding banquet in Judea that is being spoken of here in this text. Their customs are quite different from ours. But, regardless of the ethnic group, what is held in common as far as wedding ceremonies go is that it is a "joyous place." Stories about banquets are often found in scripture, but it is the theme of "joy" that is shared in every [text]. It is a "joy" that goes beyond what we think. It is symbolized within a celebration that used to last an entire week back in that time. Daily life had so much sorrow and bitterness, but only at that time were they all able to enjoy themselves from the heart. So, that's what the wedding banquet was.
7. After such a fashion then, Jesus spoke of the last day as a day of joy. He accepted the last day as a day of joy. That is the original way for the church and the Christian to be. The end will surely come upon [each] life in hardly no time. The last hour is also coming in history. But, when one feels just fear for the end, then it is something to be sad about for sure. When we consider ourselves heading for our end, it would be miserable if it were just emptiness and dread there in it. When we're at Christ's side, the end is not like that. At Christ's side the end could be spoken of as "a wedding banquet." It is spoken of as a place of joy, a place in which we share in an overflowing joy. Christ is inviting us to ultimate joy.
Wisdom And Folly
8. So, in this wedding ceremony scene ten virgins appear in it. Many suppose these ten women to be brides themselves, but they are not. They are all basically guests invited to the wedding banquet. Many persons were invited, and as might be expected, many of them had duties in it because there were a lot of things that needed to be prepared for the wedding ceremony and the banquet. The bride had favors to ask of her ten friends for chores in welcoming her groom, which is what the ten virgins in this text are for.
9. [Scholars] say that wedding banquets back in that day and time were comprised of two banquets. First, the groom went to the bride's home and they had a banquet which you might call a smaller scale pre-celebration party. Next then, the groom would take his bride to his home, and there they would have the full-blown main celebration. So, these ten [virgins] bore the duty to go out to greet the groom when he first arrived at the bride's house. At times they would go out to greet the groom even at the outskirts of town. There were also times when the groom was late. They say it wasn't unusual for [him to arrive] in the middle of the night. At times like that they would light lamps and wait. That was their duty.
10. I repeat; all the members were equally invited to the banquet. They were invited to great joy and celebration. But, while the were invited all the same, those ten split into two groups. What does the Bible say? "Among them five persons were foolish and five were wise." They were divided into wise and foolish persons. What could this possibly mean to say? As it goes on, the Bible explains it like this: "The foolish virgins had their lamps, but they did not prepare any oil for them. Putting oil into jars the wise virgins had with them several kinds of lamps," (verses three and four). The difference in being wise from foolish is the difference of whether one had prepared some oil or not.
11. When we read this parable, there is the danger of reading way too much extra meaning into it in asking "What does the oil mean?," or "What do the lamps stand for?" We shouldn't care about those questions. The important matter lies elsewhere. What it is really saying about the ones who prepared the oil is that they were totally committed to waiting it out for the groom to come, even should [the night] grow old. Put another way, it is saying that these were the ones who had made preparations and had kept the hour held fast in their view of when they would greet the groom, escort him to the bride's house, and then share in the banquet with them.
12. On the other hand, the other five were different. They were only thinking about the place and the time. Because it was night they did have lamps. But, they didn't think ahead. They only had in mind what they needed for the immediate moment.
13. Matthew recorded this parable of Jesus in his gospel account. At the background to it lies the situation of the church at that time as it was expecting the second coming of Jesus. From the earliest times, they had already expected that Jesus would come again, he would complete the kingdom of God, and he would usher it in amid eternal blessings. They believed it would happen while the Christians back then were all still alive. But Jesus' second coming was no where to be seen. Meanwhile persecutions became fierce. Therefore, the thought "How long must we wait?!" started to take over everyone's heart. Yet, the Lord said, "Therefore, wake up! Because you do not know the day or the hour." That is one meaning of this parable.
14. But, speaking in very general terms, I think we should say that it is a parable that is offering a question to us about where do we live and keep our focus? Do we live prepared and focused on the hour when we will greet the groom and share in the joyous banquet celebration with him? Are we living focused on the last hour when we will take part in unfathomable joy? Or are we only thinking about the moment before us? Right now are we only thinking about this place and this time, and are we living tossed about by just these things? [The text] is throwing this question at us, and it calls the former wise persons and the latter fools.
15. Put in other words, the faith life could also be defined as not living by looking at what is right in front of your eyes but living and looking up to the end. When a believer sees just in a myopic manner, his or her joy will always wither from within him or her. His or her patience will also be lost. The wisdom of which the Lord speaks is different from the wisdom of this world. The people of the world call wise those who handle temporal matters well and spend their time skillfully and smoothly. But, if their eyes are not opened to the last hour, the Lord says that is foolishness. The Lord requires [of us] the wisdom of the virgins who had prepared the oil.
The Hard Fact Of Life Of Not Making Others Responsible
16. There is something else to notice. It is the fact of why the five who did have oil ready did not share their oil with the other five. That was clearly and humanely wrong [for them to do]. They probably should have done the greeting together by even decreasing the number of lamps and sharing them out.
17. But, we need to look here at the other side, the hard reality in each other's lives. To get to the point, there are some things you can share with others and some things you can't. There are times you can stand in for others and times you can't. Also, ultimately, you cannot share out to another person or substitute for another person the way that a person is living or has lived. That person will be held accountable for himself or herself every time. [Each] person will be asked [as to whether one] was wise or foolish.
18. We could also say that that is the hard fact of life of not making those around us responsible for us. We would like to thrust our responsibility for how our lives are onto those around us. We would like to say, "It's because of that person. It's because of this person." But, we must see that the time is coming when the excuse of "They wouldn't share their oil with me" won't be valid. Before God it won't be about "What about the other people?," but it will be about "How were you? Were you wise or foolish?, that's what we will be held accountable for, as our own business [to face].
19. Again I repeat myself, but they were all invited to the banquet. They should have not forgotten that joyous fact. The time soon came for them to sit at the banquet with the groom. They should have not lost the expectation which was full of joy. They should have been people looking to that hour, eyes opened, and expecting. It's the same for us, too. We are invited to an amazing joy and unfathomable blessings. "Therefore, wake up!," says the Lord. We want to live as persons who are awake, sensing that hour we will soon meet the Lord, and patiently expecting [him] as we carefully do the duty given us.