The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27A (November 9, 2014)
Lessons:Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom 6:12-16 Psalm 70 or Wisdom 6:17-20 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 St. Matthew 25:1-13
Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Psalm 78:1-7
Prayer of the Day: O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
[Jesus said] 25.1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But 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.' 10 And 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
St. Matthew 25:1-13, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Five of Them Were Foolish, and Five Were Wise
This week’s parable is about judgment, as are the other parables in St. Matthew’s “judgment section” — Unfaithful Slave: 24:43-51; Ten Bridesmaids: 25:1-13; Talents: 25:14-30; Great Judgment: 25:31-46. These parables, taken together, are about an ultimate “sorting out” that takes place, separating the faithful from the unfaithful. In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the five who prepare themselves for the long wait (they bring extra oil for themselves) are welcomed into the banquet, while those who don’t prepare themselves (they don’t bring enough oil) are left out of the celebrating.
Why does Jesus tell this story? After all, so many of his other stories have to do with undeserved kindness. The Prodigal Son is welcomed home by the father. The Samaritan Woman at the well is promised living water. A sinful woman who barges in on a party in the home of a Pharisee is forgiven and instructed to “go in peace.” These seem to be included in what Jesus is accomplishing, despite the fact that they don’t deserve it. So why, in this parable, does Jesus indicate that what one does (bringing extra oil) determines whether or not one is included (in the wedding banquet)?
The unique aspect of this particular story is the delay of the bridegroom.
First century wedding celebrations often included a bit of game-playing. The guests would gather outside the reception hall and wait for the arrival of the bridegroom. Sometimes the bridegroom would arrive right away, and at other times he would wait until well into the night to show up. The goal of the bridegroom was to surprise the bridesmaids, and catch some of them unprepared. The goal of the bridesmaids was to be ready at any time to trim their lamps and enter into the festivities. In this story, the bridegroom doesn’t show up until after midnight — surprising everybody (and most of all, the foolish bridesmaids). Not only did the bridesmaids have to be ready, but they had to be ready over the long haul — ready for the bridegroom to delay his arrival even until after midnight.
Which is exactly what is happening during the time when St. Matthew wrote his Gospel. Many first-generation Christians had come to believe that Jesus would return before the end of their lives to bring all of creation to a conclusion. But by the early nineties (when many scholars suspect Matthew wrote this account), decades have passed since the resurrection, and Christians are beginning to wonder, “How long will this take? We thought it was only a matter of months, but…”
In a time of adjusting to the “delayed” return of the Messiah, these words of Jesus become important to St. Matthew. They don't suggest that time is short, and believers ought to hurry up and get prepared before it is too late (a common mis-interpretation in our time). Instead, they suggest that the faithful Christian is in it for the long-haul, not the short-haul. The focus of a faithful Christian life is not living in fear that the end might come any moment (although, in fact, it may). The focus of a faithful Christian life has to do with preparing well, and being ready for a lifetime of faithfulness.
So how is it that we prepare well? How is it that we are like the wise bridesmaids who take “flasks of oil with their lamps?” How might we, in the words of the old Spiritual, "Keep your lamps trimmed and burning?" We commit ourselves to daily prayer and Bible study. We allow weekly worship with God’s people to play a central role in the rhythm of our lives. We commit ourselves to lives of love and service to our neighbor. We stretch ourselves to become generous people. We gather regularly to encourage one another in faith. We practice these habits of discipleship, and build up the store of faith and trust that we will need for the long-haul.
The question is not, “Will we be included or excluded?” The question is, “How will each of us develop the resources we’ll need for a life of faithfulness in Christ’s name?” Thanks be to God who calls us to this life, and through the Holy Spirit strengthens us for the journey.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What do the ten bridesmaids all have in common?
- What distinguishes the five from the five?
- How might Jesus’ listeners have understood this story differently than St. Mathew’s readers did?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- Do I tend to think more in the short-term (Christ is coming soon…) or the long-term (I hope to stay faithful for years to come…)?
- What discipleship habits or faith practices have helped to strengthen my faithfulness?
- What habits or practices do I want to strengthen in this coming year?