As I mentioned last week we have another of Matthew’s parables that doesn’t necessarily end well, but tells us what the coming of the Kingdom of heaven will be like.
Perhaps a little cultural setting will help as we read the Parable of the Ten Young Women, or the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids as it is also known. Another title that we sometimes find for this parable is the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
Marriages were organized for women who were in their early teens and the attendants of the bride would have been those of marriageable age, so the women in the parable would have been understood to be young indeed.
Palestine weddings in Jesus’ time were known as patrilocal which simply meant the groom would have set up home in or next to his father’s house. The turning moment in the ceremony would have been the moment when the groom goes into the bride’s family home, takes his bride and takes her back to his father’s home where the rest of the ceremony would take place. It seems this moment is the moment the young women are waiting for.
There is a lot of symbolism in the parable. To have lit or unlit lamps is really neither here nor there in the reality of a wedding ceremony but in the Bible the idea of a lit lamp symbolizes good deeds. We are told of ‘a lamp unto my feet’, and ‘not to hide your lamp under a bushel’ and so on. The lamps possibly refer to being prepared with good deeds on Judgement Day.
As we’ve explored the background to this gospel we must remember that Matthew was writing to a sect of Jews in a time after the Romans had crushed the Jewish uprising and destroyed the temple. It is as if he is saying: keep doing good deeds, keep the faith despite feeling small and threatened in your faith. Look what happens when you do not light the lamp of faith!
One way to interpret this parable is simply to recognise there are choices to make, there are things for which we must be prepared, and in many ways, we are responsible for those choices for ourselves. No one is forced into heaven, or into anywhere else, and however we choose to live, we are responsible for the consequences of our choices.
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