Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25
25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But 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. 8The 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.’ 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13, NRSV)
Let us pray: O God, you let us choose, between you and the false gods of this world. In the midst of the night of our lives, wake us from our slumber and call us forth to greet Christ, so that with eyes and hearts fixed on him, we may follow to eternal light. Amen.
Have you ever overslept? If you have then you know that horrible feeling of chaos that happens when you have to be somewhere at a certain time and you realize you’re late. If you haven’t experienced oversleeping then you have probably at least dreamed that you have overslept. It is a very common dream that people have; you dream that you have a huge test in school or an exam in college, and you wake up and realize that you are late. You run and show up at the classroom but the test is either already started or it is completely over. In a variation on that dream I often dream that I oversleep on Sunday morning and worship has been going on for twenty minutes or so and I come rushing in and all of you all are here but you are only wearing your underwear. Now, that is a nightmare!
In the Gospel lesson all ten of the bridesmaids have fallen asleep and they are woken up as the bridegroom is on his way. In the midst of their disorientation as they try to wake up and get in place for the bridegroom’s arrival, we learn that some of them were prepared and some were not. It is their preparation or lack of preparation seals their fate. At first reading this is a scary parable about the Kingdom of God.
Thank goodness this is not the only parable about the Kingdom of God that we have to base our faith on, because if this was the only parable about the kingdom of heaven and God then the Christian Faith would be a pretty depressing business. I much prefer other parables, such as the parable of the lost sheep where Jesus, the good shepherd goes to whatever means necessary to find that one lost sheep. Not this parable where if you are a little late to the party the door is slammed in your face as Jesus says “I do not know you.” It’s a pretty scary picture but it is one we must pay attention too.
This parable flies in the face of what I believe about faith, and about God. We hear this parable and it is telling us to always be prepared. Prepare yourself for the unexpected. Get your life insurance, your savings account, and your financial plans all in order because you just never know. Part of me is ok with that mentality because I like organization and preparation. I respect people who are on time, who do what they say they are going to do, who plan and organize and prepare for all of the what-ifs. I get frustrated with people who don’t. So a part of me likes that these unprepared bridesmaids seem to get what they deserve. They should have brought more oil, they should have been more prepared, so good for you Jesus, lock them out and throw away the key. But I know in my heart of hearts that that is not what Jesus is saying. I know in my heart of hearts that our organization, our preparedness is not what the Gospel is about. It is not about us, it is about God.
It’s very difficult to read just one snapshot of a scripture. You have to look at it in context. This parable comes at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has already ridden into town on the donkey, he has overturned the tables in the temple in a rage over the moneychangers. The Pharisees and Scribes question him and try to trap him. Then Jesus condemns them for the way they speak the words of faith but don’t live their faith, the way they lay burdens on others without any sacrifice of their own. The disciples can tell that something big is about to happen but they are slow to catch on but even they realize that something is going on with Jesus. “Tell us Jesus what is going on, what will be the sign of the end?” Jesus answers, “Nations will rise against nations, there will be famine and earthquakes and all of this will just be the beginning of the birth pangs.” He goes on to tell about persecutions and suffering and sacrifice. Pretty heavy stuff. Then Jesus starts talking about the kingdom of God.
So, digging a little deeper this parable is pointing toward the reason that the wise bridesmaids came prepared. They came prepared because they were so excited, they couldn’t wait so they got all their ducks in a row so that they could be there willing and waiting when the bridegroom showed up.
My brother-in-law is a huge University of Alabama football fan and has season tickets. Two of his sons are in school there. He gets so excited for each home game they play. Monnie said that he prepares for each home game weeks in advance. He has a routine, he gets up early on Saturday morning, leaves the hotel and gets to the stadium for a day of tailgating. He doesn’t want to miss a thing so he prepares, he is present and he can enjoy everything that is going on. It is like the five prepared bridesmaids they were ready because they were excited. If only people got as excited about Jesus as they do a football game or a new TV show or the ballet or other major event in our lives that we care about.
Jesus is not telling us that the bridesmaids who were organized are the only ones getting into the kingdom. No, because this parable is about more than that, it is about joy and expectation. Joy at meeting the bridegroom and joy over following Jesus. Jesus is saying these bridesmaids were so excited about meeting the bridegroom that they brought all their oil with them. They didn’t want to miss anything. The other bridesmaids were only partly excited. They didn’t care quite so much. They sort of, kind of cared and sort of, kind of wanted to meet the bridegroom but not enough to bring all their oil. They brought just enough, they brought the bare minimum.
So, this parable is doing so much more than just trying to get our attention. This parable is much more than a message saying you better fill up your lamp because Jesus might lock you out or you better stockpile oil and save enough for yourself. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is so great, so magnificent, so exciting that you want to bring your all, all your gifts, all your talents, all your oil with you because you just can’t wait to meet the bridegroom.
Jesus tells this parable about a wedding. Weddings are always joyful and full of life and hope and love. So the bridesmaids should come prepared. Prepared and excited to meet the bridegroom. And so this is our message, to come prepared. Not out of fear but joy, joy for the gift of the bridegroom, joy for the future, joy for the life changing presence of Jesus.
Beethoven said that Jesus is the joy of man’s desiring. Henry Van Dyke later put words to Beethoven’s music in the familiar hymn:
“joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away. Giver or immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. Joyful, joyful we adore thee.”
How often are we startled out of our sleep and respond with joy?
How often do we experience our faith as unending joy?
Joy is a feeling, an emotion that you can’t really explain or write about or fully express, you are just overcome by it. Joy is something felt and experienced. It can’t be captured or bottled up. It can only be lived and enjoyed. And it’s not trite. Far from trite and superficial. Joy is real and deep and meaningful.
So, the parable is about our response to something grand and glorious, something life changing and transformative – Jesus— the son of the living God. He comes full of life and hope and love. So let us be ready prepared to meet the bridegroom with all of our gifts and talents and joy. Joyful, joyful we adore thee. Amen.