“… be on the watch, since you know neither the day nor the hour”

The return of Jesus and the end of the world were important issues for the early disciples. They wrongly expected them to happen within their lifetimes. By the time that Matthew wrote his Gospel, the fact that sixty or so years had passed since Jesus had been killed, and nothing had yet happened, had an unsettling effect on many early Christians. The prospect of the early return of Jesus, coupled with the threat of final judgment, had provided an incentive to fervour and serious conversion of heart. Matthew was concerned that further delay might be responsible for a lessening of commitment and a cooling of fervour.

Today’s parable is the second of three that Matthew added to a collection of sayings of Jesus about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the end of the present era [which in some ways it exemplified]. Each of the three parables, in its own way, dealt with the imperative need to live a fully committed Christian life without the pressure presented by the prospect of the imminent return of Jesus.

The Gospel’s response to the delay was to insist, nevertheless, that Jesus would return unannounced and unexpected, and to repeat the mantra, “Keep alert, stay awake, be ready!” Today’s parable is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins”.

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