Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor Bible Background
This week we are again handed a difficult parable. This particular parable is complicated because of a couple of reasons. First of all, the set up is one that we don’t really relate to. There was a custom in the ancient world of bridesmaids (sometimes translated as virgins) to wait for the groom to usher him into the wedding. This already seems antiquated. Secondly, Matthew is writing to a community who was promised that Jesus would return within their lifetime. Paul had already written that Jesus was supposed to come when he was writing, about thirty years before Matthew. Matthew’s community is anxious with their waiting for Jesus’ return. They were convinced that this would happen, now. We have a hard time relating to this anxiety because we are not waiting as anxiously 2000 years later. We have realized that perhaps it looks differently. Thirdly, this parable seems a little unfair to be honest. All of the bridesmaids had oil, all were waiting, all fell asleep. They were pretty prepared, all of them. Some anticipated a longer wait. Even if it is not unfair, I am pretty sure I can relate to those bridesmaids sometimes. Perhaps that third point, has to do with my uneasiness….
So what do we do with this parable?
First of all, we can admit that this is a bit odd. It is just a bit archaic. We have the luxury of looking at the entire context and appreciating that Matthew comes from a context. We have talked quite a bit about that context through the lenses of parables. We are not alone in struggling from parable to parable.
Next, we can look at the core issues of preparation and waiting. What is clear is that there is waiting to be done and some are more prepared than others. Jesus tells us that perhaps we should err more on the side of over preparing than under in our waiting or else we might miss the party. This kind of waiting that appears through Matthew is really really hard. This kind of waiting is waiting for something over due, waiting for something you start to think won’t even come, and waiting with active preparation. The hard part is the in between, isn’t it? When the phone call won’t come? Or waiting for pain to end? Or the test results? Or the word from your first choice of job? Waiting is really really hard. Jesus totally gets it because this story takes place in the in between. Matthew gets it because his community is waiting like this.
Let’s admit then that this is hard to sustain. The preparation to be ready for Jesus to appear is hard because we find it hard to believe. But if we don’t prepare like Jesus is coming, we will miss the opportunity of celebrating with Jesus when justice does appear or community does usher in the kingdom. This kind of waiting is hard because we grow weary. In those moments we are the foolish bridesmaid, our oil has run out. When that happens, let’s make church the place that we can help refill the oil so that we might wait together longer. We can sit with each other as we wait and pick up the prep that needs to happen that others can’t fully do. The wise bridesmaids wouldn’t share their oil because they would have also missed out. What if the church took up sharing the oil instead?
Quotes of the week
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln
“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.” ― Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” ― Oprah Winfrey
“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” ― Ellen DeGeneres
Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV) “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. I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”
Questions for the Week
How would your life change if you expected Jesus to show up anytime?
How do you prepare for spiritual experiences?
Would you have shared your oil?
What would be the modern day equivalent of this story?