Sunday, November 27, 2016
by Donna Stroup
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’ 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Curiously, this story about wise and foolish bridesmaids appears in the Chapter just before Matthew’s account of the Passion; it is presented with three more stories, each with instructions on how to conduct ourselves while we await the return of our Lord. The writing of Matthew occurs while there is still some expectation that Jesus would return relatively soon, but with lower expectation than during the ministry of Paul twenty years earlier. In Advent 2016, (two thousand years later), it has been a delay beyond what anyone in Matthew’s community would have imaged. So how do we hear, and live by, this parable, as we pray, “While We are Waiting, Come?”
On quick reading, we might hear this as a stern warning to be prepared for Jesus’ return: STAY AWAKE, CARRY EXTRA OIL. The punishment is clear, as the “foolish” bridesmaids are shut out from the final party by an irritated bride groom. But other questions come to mind.
First, why did the “wise” girls fail to share the extra oil that they brought? Was it anxious hoarding in anxiety about the future? How are we able to live with greater generosity and grace as we wait?
Second, how do we maintain our preparation, 2000 years later? In this uncertain time, could it be that the kingdom has come, in some sense, but is not fully apparent to us? Although the foolish bridesmaids were chosen, they were not guaranteed a seat at the banquet. As we wait, how can we live in vigilance, bearing witness to God’s kingdom by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46), and making disciples in all the world (28:19-20)?
Dear God, may we trust in your boundless grace and overwhelming love so that we can wait with confidence and share with our neighbors with generosity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.