We Await A Future Filled With Joy

October 18, 2009
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
Matthew 25:1-13

The Parable Of The Wedding

1. Today I read to you one of the parables Jesus gave. It is a continuation from the previous chapter. It is a message dealing with the end. It is a piece [about] the future. It is quite a long piece since it comprises all of chapters twenty-four and twenty-five. [It's so long] because it is important for us. The part about the past is significant. But the part about the future is even more significant. It surely is; because more important than what has happened so far is what will happen here after. And most important of all is what will happen at the very end.

2. But I wonder how [we] really see it. If you take a quick look at it with me, we live as if the past is more important than the future. In my opinion, the balancing scales weigh in that direction. We live as if what happened in the past or what is happening now has decisive significance. We think everything is decided by that. But, putting it in the language of baseball, we're still in the middle of the game. It's the top of the fifth inning. Even if a number of runs have been allowed at the bottom of the fourth, the important stuff is not at the fourth but [all] the developments after the top of the fifth. And ultimately how you win the game is not the most important thing, is it? You will have to come from behind somehow. [And then] it's great when the ninth inning is over and you've won.

3. So, Jesus gives a message on the future. He gives a message on the end. The reason Jesus gives a message on the time of the end is because it is not over yet. It means we're still in the middle [of the game]. So, we need to look ahead with both eyes. Since we often lose sight of the obvious like this, I think we really need to listen with both ears to this message from Jesus.

4. It may be a parable from Jesus that I read today, but in a sense something quite dreadful has been said. When you hear it read out loud, I think the end of the story will undoubtedly leave you with a strong impression. "After that, the other young women came and said, 'Sir, sir, please open!' But the host answered, 'I truly say to you. I do not know you.'," (verses eleven and twelve). They are shut out by the Lord, and worse, he says, "I do not know you." If this is the ultimate conclusion, they are truly dreadful words because when you are told by the Lord "I don't know you" and you are abandoned, this means you are done for.

5. However, if we only pay attention to that and take it as "dreadful words," then we're probably not understanding it the right way. I am saying this because these words have a very peculiar point as a story. It is that "a wedding" is the setting. If you don't notice this point, then you may fail to hear the peculiar message in this parable.

6. The text here is speaking about a wedding banquet in Judea. The customs there are different from our own. But, when it comes to weddings there is something in common among all peoples and that commonality is that it is "a joyous occasion." Wedding stories appear often in the scriptures, and the theme of "joy and rejoicing" is shared among those passages. It is more "rejoicing" than we [usually] think of. It was represented back then by a week long banquet. Suffering and hard times were aplenty on an every day basis, however, only at those times could everyone rejoice and enjoy themselves heartily. Such was the wedding banquet.

7. Jesus is speaking about our future by taking up this "wedding banquet" in parable. "There will be great joy in your futures. The great joy that awaits you is, figuratively speaking, a banquet. Your lives are heading towards that great rejoicing. You are being invited to this greatest of all rejoicing." He is giving a message along those lines.

8. So, it's what's next that's important. Whether we have a part in the rejoicing or don't have a part is not decided by past events. It is decided by how we live after this. If we go by the words of Jesus, our futures are decided by whether we live as wise persons or we live as foolish persons instead. It is through this that we will either come to have a part in the great rejoicing or we will come to forfeit a part in the great rejoicing that has been prepared.

Wisdom And Folly

9. Let's go [deeper] into the contents of the parable. In this text "ten young women" can be found. Some think these ten ladies are brides. They are not brides. They are wedding invitees. A lot of folks are invited. And the invited [guests] are assigned roles because there are a lot of preparations that must be done for wedding ceremonies and its banquets. Brides asked ten friends to assist in the task of greeting the groom. That would be the ten young women found in this text.

10. They say that wedding parties back then used to consist of two banquets. First the groom went to the bride's house, and a banquet was held, which one could call a warm-up anticipatory celebration. It continued by the groom bringing the bride to his own house, and there a full-scale banquet was held. It is the ten women who were responsible for the task of going out to greet him at that hour, when the groom first headed for the bride's house. At times, they would go out to the outskirts of town and greet the groom. There would be times when the groom was late. They say it was not unusual for it to be in the evening. At that hour they would wait with lamps lit. That was their duty.

11. I repeat: They were all equally invited to the wedding banquet. The seats were already prepared. They were invited to the great rejoicing. But though they were all invited the same way, these ten were split two ways. The Lord says, "Five of them were foolish, and five were wise." They were split into wise and foolish persons. What could this possibly mean? As we continue in the story, the scripture explains it as follows. "The foolish young women had lit lamps, but they made no preparations for oil. The wise young women had, along with each of their lit lamps, put oil in [their] jars," (verses three and four).

12. "What does 'the oil' stand for?" "What does 'the lit lamps' stand for?" There are various interpretations, but I don't think we should care too much about them. The main point is the difference of whether you have prepared oil or have not prepared oil. What kind of persons is meant by saying they were persons who had prepared oil? It [means] the people who had made plans to wait steadfastly, until the groom came, no matter how late it became. Put another way, it is that these are the ones thinking and acting all the way [from] when they greet the groom and then he brings them to the bride's house and to that moment when they have a share in the banquet with [them]. "The wise young women" are said to be like that.

13. On the other hand, the other five are different. They were only thinking of that moment and that place. Because it was evening they did go out with lamps. But they did not think ahead. "How is it right now? What is the situation now? What do we need for now?" They only thought that. "The foolish young women" are said to be like that.

14. The people of the world call "wise" the people who respond well to the things right before their eyes, who spend time skillfully and purposefully. However, the wise in that sense are unexpectedly brittle when a severe situation, with which they cannot cope well, goes on at length. For example, in the time period when the gospel was written, in the age of persecution, this kind of wisdom was probably not in use; because a severe situation, in which it was impossible to cope, continued at length. At this time what did they say was truly needed? Most likely it was that they not lose hope, that they not turn their backs on the future, but live believing that God was preparing great rejoicing in their futures, though they might have to wait a little more. Though it might be getting a bit late, they were to live looking ahead with hope, directing their eyes to the future, by keeping in mind the fact that the hour was surely coming when the groom would arrive. It is these "wise young women" who are exemplifying these kind of persons.

You Are The One Who Chooses

15. So then, there is a point of which we must take notice. It is the fact that the five who had prepared the oil did not share [their] oil with the other five. Morally speaking we'd feel they were wrong. You would think they would share [lamps] and welcome [him] together even if they decreased the number of lamps.

16. However we must take a good look at a solemn aspect in our lives with respect to one another. In short, it is that there are some things we can or cannot share with others. There are times we can or cannot change places with others. The path of a human being's life cannot be swapped with that of another's. We cannot live in someone else's place. Nor can people exchange with each other whether they will have a share in the great rejoicing that God has ultimately prepared or whether they will fail to have a share in it. It is impossible "to enter the banquet in another's place" or "to be locked outside of the banquet in another's place."

17. Therefore then, we mustn't let other people or other things determine whether we turn out to be [like] "the wise" or "the foolish young women." -- Because you will live your own life which nobody else can do in your place. And because you must accept its conclusion. So you must choose on your own. Will you live trapped in the past looking behind you? Will you live thinking only of the present alternating between joy and sorrow? Or will you look ahead, to the future, to when you will greet the groom -- to when you will greet none other than the Christ at his second coming -- and live taking in that [time] into your field of vision, taking the very end into your field of vision? [You] yourself have that choice to make.

18. Some people may have been brought up in an unfortunate home environment. Some people may have gone through a miserable childhood. But, you must not let that decide the future for you. You must not let it decide how you will live. Or, there may be a person [here] who has been hurt by someone and has suffered a loss in a great part of his or her life. But you must not let your life be decided by the person who hurt you. You must not let that person determine how you will live your life. Perhaps there was something unpleasant and you felt disappointed sometime during the last week. But you must not let that event determine how you will live from this week on. You decide how you live from here on. You make the choice.

19. The banquet is already being prepared. The unbelievable great joy is being prepared and awaits us. When do we have a share in the joy? When is the groom coming? We do not know. It is just as Jesus says. At any rate though, it is what comes afterwards from here on that matters. Even though the waiting may get long, we must not give up hope. We must not turn our backs on the future. Living like the "wise young women," ultimately and without fail, let's have a share in the great rejoicing that God has prepared!