Matthew 25:1-13 (CEB)
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.
“When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’
“Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’
“But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.
“Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
November 11-12, 2017
“Enough Hope For All”
We return to the Gospel of Matthew this week with another parable about the kingdom of God.
This is a story that comes from the Jewish marriage customs at the time of Jesus. Typically, a Jewish marriage was preceded by a joyous procession with the bulk of the festivities and the wedding banquet taking place at the home of the groom’s parents. Many of the wedding customs focused on the groom and took place at night with the groom showing up unexpectedly and being led into the wedding banquet by the light of the bridesmaid’s lamps.
There are 10 bridesmaids in our story today; five wise and five foolish, representing people of faith. The bridegroom in the story represents Christ and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of God.
This parable is found only in the Gospel of Matthew.
(Read Matthew 25:1-13)
It is an awful feeling to be caught unprepared.
Remember the pop quiz in school that we were told might happen any day, we just wouldn’t know, when so we were to be prepared by keeping up with the reading or the studying each night. How many times were you caught unprepared?
This is the situation that five of the bridesmaids find themselves in according to Jesus’ parable.
Ancient lamps burned oil quickly. So, anyone carrying one of these lamps would need to also carry extra oil. The five bridesmaids are foolish because they had the opportunity to prepare but failed to do so. And even though this is an odd parable to our modern ears, we can understand about being foolish and unprepared. Haven’t we all been foolish at some time…haven’t we all been unprepared at some time? Or think of the many times we have burned up all our oil on things that don’t matter and then do not have anything left for the things that matter most.
This parable is urging us and encouraging us to be ready, no matter the chaos and confusion of our everyday lives and no matter the fear of not having enough.
I remember hearing this story for the first time as a child. I don’t remember if the context was in worship or in Sunday school, but I remember thinking, “Why didn’t the five bridesmaids who had oil share with the other five?” The concept of sharing is something we try to teach our children from a young age and it seems like the right and simple thing to do.
But we know the frustration of being with or around people who are unprepared.
On a trip to the Grand Canyon several years ago, I had spent a significant amount of time preparing for the trip…checking websites to know exactly what a person needs to hike down into the canyon on a day trip and then stocking up on the necessary provisions so as not to be caught short of water or sunscreen or a second pair of socks. There were a good number of people making the hike on the day that I was there and most of us looked prepared…sturdy hiking boots with thick socks, wide-brimmed hats, wrap-around sunglasses, light-colored clothing, and backpacks with sunscreen and water bottles.
While on the hike back up out of the canyon, there on the side of the path sat two people; no hats, wearing flip-flops for footwear and obviously carrying no water. They looked in tough shape. A number of things went through my mind, none of which I said out loud; but then the moment of decision…do you leave these folks and hope that they can rest and get enough energy to make it back up out of the canyon or do you share your water supply, knowing that you might not have enough for both you and them?
When we live within an attitude of abundance rather than an attitude of not enough, it affects how we make decisions. When we live in the mindset that there is enough…enough time, enough talent, enough resources, enough hope, enough oil…the decision is to give some of what we have away, knowing that we will have enough.
As we think about our own stewardship and what we will commit to sharing for our ministry together in the coming year, can we be wise enough to know that it is not a matter of equal giving, but it is a matter of equal seeking to give from all that God has blessed us with.
When we bring together our gifts and commitments joyfully and willingly, we soon find that what is impossible for any one of us to do individually becomes possible when together we each make the decision to give a portion.
The only difference between the wise and foolish maidens in our story is that the wise ones are prepared with extra oil. When the foolish ones ask them to share, their answer comes quickly…there’s not enough; go buy your own. So, while the foolish ones are out searching in the middle of the night for an open Kwik Trip that sells lamp oil, the bridegroom arrives and they miss the celebration they should have been a part of.
This story calls us to prepared and faithful living.
When we are prepared to offer the oil of God’s grace to others, our own oil supply is replenished. The replenishing of our oil can happen in very real ways, like the sharing of food or clothing; or sharing of resources to meet needs in times of disaster; or the regular and consistent commitment of our gifts to keep ministry happening through our faith community.
When we keep seeking God’s presence and making sure we get enough of that presence to fill our own lamp, we are better able to be the oil and light of God’s grace to those who are running low. When that happens, burdens begin to be divided and we begin to let go and let the presence of God refill our oil supply.
There is a story shared by a pastor who tells about coming back into the sanctuary after worship one Sunday, long after the last worshippers had left. As he came back down the aisle he says he sensed a strange aliveness in the empty sanctuary.
Some things were left behind in the pews as they always were…A bulletin with a shopping list in the margins; a pair of gloves; a sweater…in the next pew Cheerios and candy wrappers.
As he reached the front of the sanctuary and was straighten things on the altar, he looked once more at the empty sanctuary and thought to himself, “I wonder what else has been left behind.” It would be every pastor’s dream to come down the aisle after worship and find other items left behind. In one pew a man’s deep grief; in another a woman’s bitter disappointment or sense of failure. In another section some secret sin, whether real or imagined but now discarded. Further down the aisle, the bulkier items: a badly bruised ego, the remains of a heated argument on the way to church, anger, guilt, hurt, hatred…all the stuff that can beat us up, burn us out and leave us unprepared for the coming of the bridegroom.
The truth is we are all invited to the banquet and none of us has as much oil as we think we do.
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says things like, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (11:28); and “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…or what you will wear.” (6:25); and “Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be open for you.” (7:7).
When these words about refreshment, renewal and replenishment are set next to our story today, we feel more prepared and the oil of our faithful living can then energize us as we wait for God’s full and eternal presence.
When we live within an attitude of abundance, it effects how we make decisions. When we decide to commit our resources to the ministries of faith and love that God has called us to, our oil will be replenished and we will know that there really is enough hope for all.
Thanks Be to God.