On its face, today’s Gospel reading is easy. Matthew 25: 1-13 is commonly known as the parable about the bridesmaids. As such, it reflects one of Matthews enduring themes: we don’t know when the Bridegroom will return, but we must be ready.
Clearly, in this story, some are ready and others are not. It comes as a shock to some, that Jesus issues a harsh judgment on those who are “unprepared” — they are locked out of the Kingdom!
What are we to make of this?
More importantly, what does this mean for us who like to think of ourselves as faithful Christians, awaiting the return of Jesus?
Recently, a preacher predicted that the world would end, i.e., Jesus would return on some day in October. Before that, he had predicted that the same thing would occur on another earlier date. The man, like many others, is consumed with trying to mathematically determine this point in time. He and others apparently don’t take Matthew seriously on the issue of the return date being unknowable.
But the preacher points to a problem that many Christians have: paying all their attention to end times. You hear it quite a lot among evangelicals. You read about it in numerous books, fictional or otherwise. One preacher who has a television show, has spent his entire preaching life, urging people to “accept Jesus” because any moment now He will return. The signs are always pointing to its imminence.
Yet, I don’t think that was the point Matthew was trying to make.
It is not mere decor that the lamps are prominently featured in the parable. Light is a serious thing in the bible. Light signifies knowledge, truth, awareness, discipleship. The “good” bridesmaids, have their lamps lit. Moreover, they have prepared for a possible delay in the Bridegroom’s return, but securing additional oil. The “bad” bridemaids, on the other hand, did not prepare for a delay. They were sure that the Bridegroom would arrive quickly, and therefore they bought no additional oil. Their oil (faith) was waning, and had gone out.
Even the good bridesmaids found the delay much longer than they expected. They “drowsed”. Yet, that did not keep them from being prepared that this might happen. They trimmed their wicks and had the oil ready when the Bridegroom’s arrival was announced.
We are, most of us, pretty good at preparing for the end game. We save money to put our kids through college, we save money for new homes. We invest in 401k’s for our retirement.
But we are not so good “preparing” for the long haul of day-to-day life. We put off the diet, the volunteer work, the relationship work. We are sure there will be “time”. We assume there is “time” to take care of the environment, to address our economic inequalities. We assume that we will get to that “stuff” before we are called upon to answer for our lives.
Jesus instructs us, that the penalties for delay can be most harsh. While we are welcomed with great compassion to turn to God until the last moment, there comes a time, when time has run out. And justice will be meted out at that time.
The lesson seems to be, at least to me, that readiness means more than belief in the end times. It means more than confessing that Jesus is our hope. It entails more. It requires that we live our lives in practicing the Kingdom each day, aware that we truly don’t know the hour of the Master’s return, and that the penalty for “putting off” our obligations to the mission can be dire indeed.
Not a one of us wishes to hear: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”
- The 21st Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 27 Year A – November 6, 2011 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)