Wedding plans in Biblical times were much different than the ones we have today. After a groom had made his proposal to the bride’s parents and a gift had been given in exchange for her hand in marriage, the groom went off to build a home while the bride and her attendants waited. No one knew when the groom would return, but everyone was aware that it could be at any moment, so each moment was lived as if it was “the moment”. When the groom was ready to bring his bride home, he would surprise her with a trumpet blast and one of his friends would shout, “Behold the bridegroom comes!” A happy procession to the groom’s house would then begin a 7 day feast celebrating the nuptials.
In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus uses imagery from the wedding ceremony to illustrate one of His titles, the Bridegroom. He does this in a parable. Parables are short stories which teach a spiritual truth. In this parable a wedding is underway. The groom is off building the home and the bride’s attendants are awaiting his return. The wait has been long and the bridesmaids have nodded-off and are now fast asleep. Some people have read all kinds of spiritual implications into this scenario but the language in the parable indicates sleep was to be expected. No one can stay awake 24/7. However, conventional wisdom has caused five of the weary bridesmaids to make sure they are prepared for the groom’s return no matter when it happens. They have set aside an extra supply of oil. Once again, many have read all kinds of spiritual conclusions into this but that is stretching the parable too far.
The crux of the principle here centers around one verb, eido (ee-doe), to know. It begins with a simple comparison. Five attendants are prudent (some versions use the word wise which is a bit more academic than what phronimos- fronimus- really intends). They are the practical ones. They are the ones who keep all the emergency equipment one might need in the trunk of the car, just in case. They always have a supply of canned goods in the pantry just in case a storm makes the roads impassible. Five attendants are foolish. This word does not mean stupid. Instead we might call them lazy. These attendants knew the bridegroom would be returning but they just didn’t feel like planning ahead. They are like the folks who are told a storm is coming in and the power might go out, but neglect to get batteries and extra water just in case. They neglect it because they don’t want to expend the energy getting ready.
In the end the foolish attendants miss out on being admitted to the wedding feast as they are off buying oil when the bridegroom leads the procession off to his home. Here is where the second use of the verb “to know” appears. This verb means the kind of knowing that is more than just an accumulation of data. It implies a cognitive knowing- an understanding that occurs because one has interacted with what is known. It is better translated as “to perceive”. The bridegroom has had no interaction with the foolish attendants because they have not taken the promise of his return seriously. By not believing the bridegroom’s promise, they demonstrated they had no relationship with him. Therefore the bridegroom claims, “I do not know you”.
The final time “to know” is used comes in Jesus’ conclusion at the end of the parable and its principle, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day or the hour”. While we may not have the inside track on when Jesus will return, if we truly believe that Jesus Our Bridegroom is going to return, then how we spend the time waiting for Him demonstrates whether we know Him or not. Are we prudent attendants or do our actions place us in the same camp as the foolish ones? It is a sobering thought that deserves our full attention as the trumpet blast could happen at any moment (Mt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thes. 4:16). Be on the alert, be wise; live each moment as if it is “the moment”.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 2/21/2016