EVERYBODY loves a wedding.
A sunny day, a radiant bride and a sumptuous meal are the necessary components.
When the novelist, John Steinbeck, was married for a second time, he wrote to a friend about it, saying, “People laughed and cried and shouted and got drunk. Oh! It was a fine wedding.”
Jesus of Nazareth was also enthusiastic about weddings. It was at such an event in Cana, Galilee, that he performed his first miracle, anxious that the bride’s family should not be embarrassed by a failure to supply ample wine (John 2; 1-11).
Other marriage ideas permeate the gospel. When John the Baptist was tempted to be envious of the rising popularity of Jesus, he called Jesus the bridegroom, and saw himself merely as the friend of the bridegroom, the one who rejoices in the happiness of his friend (John 3;29).
The New Testament speaks about the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’(Revelation 19;9) making a marriage feast a symbol of the jubilation of the heavenly realm.
But Jesus also issued a stern warning in the context of a marriage celebration. It was something of a sport in eastern society for a bridegroom to arrive unexpectedly and find the bridal party unprepared, sometimes even in the hours of darkness.
The parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25; 1-13) relates such an incident, where some bridesmaids had not sufficient oil for their lamps.
Their request to borrow some from other bridesmaids is refused, and while they go to purchase their own supplies, they are locked out from the wedding celebrations.
In this parable of the Kingdom of God, Jesus drove home some vital spiritual lessons. There is a warning to ‘be prepared’.
Some bridesmaids were sloppy in their preparation, and the sudden arrival of the bridegroom left them shame-faced.
So in life. For any great test, preparation is important, and that applies not just to schoolboy examinations, but to the even greater examinations of life, when character is tested to the full.
To stand up to such tests requires constant self-discipline. The scholar F.F. Bruce had a rule, “Every day, do at least one thing you would rather not do”. In such a way preparation is made for life’s sternest ordeals.
The parable also shows that in crises there is noting we can borrow. The diligent bridesmaids refused to share their oil, and the idle found that borrowing is not possible in life’s crises.
We cannot borrow health, for instance. Cecil Rhodes did more than most toe shape the history of Africa, for good or ill, having an entire country named in his honour.
But in the heat of Cape Town, he spent his last days wandering form room to room, hardly able to breathe. He gave his name to a country, but couldn’t get a little air.
And we cannot borrow faith. If faith is to flourish certain conditions need to be fulfilled, such as worship and Bible study. As Paul put it, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of God” (Romans 10;17).
The parable also underlines that while God is merciful and patient, there are some people who find the door closed. Too late then to make preparations.
Willie Nelson, a maverick candidate for the U.S. Presidency, has a song with the line, “If I die and my soul should be lost, nobody’s fault but mine.”
That’s Our Lord’s marriage lesson.