Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus tells a parable about his own second coming, emphasizing the need for readiness at all times.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
In my first year of seminary, a good friend of mine was getting married. Her pastor was doing the ceremony, and she invited me to be the assisting minister. It was a beautiful winter wedding. All the candles were lit, red and white decorated the church, and the bridesmaids had little white fur wraps. Her pastor, a lovely and funny man, preached the longest wedding sermon I’ve ever heard in my life. I notice the candles in the candelabra were getting quite low.
By the time we got to communion, we were praying the Lord’s Prayer and the bride looked up at me with a look of terror and urgency that I could not figure out. She jerked her head and I looked and the wooden candelabra, now covered in wax, was now itself on fire. I whispered sharply to the pastor who was still praying, and he stopped, lifted his head, grabbed his binder, and walked over to the candelabra, and wordlessly beat it until no embers remained, splattering wax everywhere. I have never not checked the candles or oil levels before a wedding.
There are many lovely wedding parables in scripture. This gospel is not one of them. We chop up these parables and stories into manageable bits each Sunday , but the whole of scripture is for us, with the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and raised at the center of it. We always let scripture interpret scripture and keep the whole story in mind. We let gospel push hard against the law. And we hear mercy stand up against judgement. We know God’s grace is sufficient and that our salvation depends on that, not on our works. Hear again the parable of the bridesmaids, laid alongside the rest of scripture.
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
— “But if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
— In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” –
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
— A smoldering wick he will not snuff out —
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.”
— Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —
“Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
– Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” –
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.
– In the city of God, they will not need the light of a lamp, for the Lord God will give them light. –
The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.
– But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. –
And the door was shut.
–“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. –
Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!”
But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”
– If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. —
“When Jesus gets to the end of his kingdom of heaven series (Bridesmaids, Talents, Sheep & Goats), he informs his listeners who were the truly foolish and who were the truly wise in each of his parables. In the end, Jesus says, those on their way to heaven will be decided by what they gave away, whether they fed the poor, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. Whether they shared what they had. Whether they shared their oil.
If they hoarded what they had, they, of course, already enjoyed their reward. It was comforting, of course, but temporary. The wise on earth had their wedding feast on earth. But that is not how it will be in the kingdom of heaven.” https://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2014/11/the-breaking-of-the-bridesmaids-how-scripture-undermines-a-parable/
We always make this parable about our preparations – but lining the judgmental parables of Jesus directed at his leadership, up against the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascends into heaven…. Maybe Jesus is a little overly ambitious as far as what his disciples have the ability to prepare for.
By the end of the gospel story, Jesus is already telling them about the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, that will be coming to help them. Maybe living into the kingdom of God requires your action to care for your neighbor, but the work of preparing your heart, and preparing for the wait for Jesus return really is the work of the Holy Spirit. And that requires patience. And being ok with sitting in the dark for a bit, knowing that the light is coming, trusting that promise with every part of our being. We just don’t know exactly when.
Waiting and preparation can be hard to sustain. We can grow weary in our work, frustrated by the lack of outcomes we see, or distracted by the thousand and one other obligations that fill each of our lives. In short, let’s admit that on any given day, each of us may discover we are a foolish bridesmaid. I find it striking that Paul closes this part of his letter to those first-century Thessalonians that found their own waiting nearly intolerable with these words, “Therefore, encourage one another….”
Yes, that is our role as the church. We are those who wait for each other – wise and foolish alike. We are those who sit vigil for each other at times of pain, loss or bereavement. We wait in darkness with each other before a diagnosis or after a biopsy. We are those who shed a little light on each other – to celebrate achievements and console after disappointment. We are those who give hope when hope is scarce, comfort when it is needed, and courage when we are afraid. We are, in short, those who help each other to wait, prepare, and keep the faith.
In my first congregation I had a young student who had missed a few years of Sunday school lessons and church but came back to go through confirmation classes. We were studying the Creed, and we got to the part about “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
And she raised her hand and said “Wait, hold up.” HE’S COMING BACK???
NOBODY TOLD ME HE WAS COMING BACK!! THAT’S THE BEST NEWS I’VE EVER HEARD!!!
May we too find the joy in the bridegroom’s return, despite the wait and despite the darkness, encouraging each other. Amen.