Lectionary 32A Proper 27A
November 12, 2023
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1- 13
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Today’s Gospel reading is one that has me scratching my head and wondering just what on earth is going on. I have previously read this to mean something like this. Jesus is the bridegroom coming at the end of time to gather unto himself his bride, the Church and if we want to be included in the eternal kingdom of heaven, we had better be like the wise bridesmaids and have plenty of supplies with us to be ready when he comes, even if we have to wait a long time, otherwise we might be locked out like the foolish bridesmaids. But, you see it makes no sense on so many levels. And for that reason, in my opinion, it has been misunderstood in dramatic ways.
This isn’t a case of the groom coming to pick up his bride -- an image commonly used for Jesus’ Second Coming when he comes to gather his church – the bride of Christ – unto himself. No. Weddings at that time would have started with the groom going to the home of the bride’s family, finishing the dowery arrangements, picking up his betrothed and then returning to his family’s home where the wedding banquet, complete with the wedding party, would take place. So, while not mentioned in the story, the bride would be understood to already be present.
As we have said before when considering the parables is that they can be looked at from any number of angles and different things can be seen and understood. I hope today to open up a new way to think about this one. Now, to be honest, what I am about to share is not something that I realized on my own. I owe a debt to preachers who have gone before me. This will be the first in a type of sermon series about waiting and how we wait for Jesus to come based upon two more confounding parables coming up in the next two weeks before we enter Advent, the season of waiting.
After reading the text again and again, I found myself saying after several of the verses, “Well, maybe, but what about…?”
So, let’s listen to it again – with some “commentary” from other parts of Scripture.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
· St Paul said: “But if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
· Jesus said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.
The bridegroom was delayed in coming, and the bridesmaids all became drowsy and fell asleep.
· In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” –
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
· The prophet Isaiah said, “A dimly burning wick he will not snuff out”
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.”
· Jesus said, Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —
“Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
· Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” –
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.
· In the Revelation, we read: In the city of God, they will not need the light of a lamp, for the Lord God will give them light. –
The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.
· Jesus said, But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
And the door was shut.
· And Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. –
Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”
· We read in Proverbs, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
Over the years of reading this, I have hoped that I would be found to be one of the five wise bridesmaids who was granted entrance into the wedding banquet. In times past, I have prided myself in having a lamp full of oil. And, truth be told, I didn’t give much thought to the plight of those five foolish ones and the closed door on which they banged. I knew I was good.
What is it that separates the wise from the foolish? First, let’s look at what did not separate them. They each had a place in going to meet the bridal party. They each came. They each grew weary of waiting and fell asleep. And it was the groom who was late to his own wedding reception!
No, none of those reasons are the basis for the five being called foolish. And a common read of the story might suggest that they were foolish because they didn’t plan ahead and bring enough oil with them. But that’s not it.
They were foolish because they left. They left to try fix the situation on their own. They left because they doubted the love and friendship of the bridal party for them. They left because they wanted to do SOMETHING on their own to try to fix it. They left because they focused on what they did not have rather than staying with their dimly burning wicks. They left, hoping against hope that a merchant at midnight would open their store and sell them some oil. They left rather than staying in the light of those whose lamps were burning brightly, that light they too could have enjoyed. They were foolish because in their worry and consternation they left.
To those of us whose lamps are burning dimly this day – those whose lives are full of despair or disease or desperation – those who are in the midst of want or wondering or wandering – those who are crying out to God, “Where are you??” -- I say this – stay with us. Come close. There is enough to go around.
To those of us whose lamps are burning brightly this day, -- those who are fed and nourished and have a home to go home to this afternoon, those whose families are near and dear, those who have financial security, those for whom joy upon waking each morning is real – to these I say this – be generous, share. Light the way. There is enough to go around.
To those of us who are the bridegrooms, the banquet hosts, keep the door open in wide welcome. Respond with mercy to the banging on the door. Welcome in the wise and the foolish, the strong and the weak, the ready and the unprepared, the alert and the drowsy, those with brightly burning lamps and those whose wicks are dimly burning.
Because, my friends, Jesus has welcomed each of us, warts and all.
Thanks be to God