Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reflections on the Parable – The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens - Matthew 25:1-13

Read the text here: Matthew 25:1-13
Give Me Oil For My Lamp!

The parable of the 10 Bridesmaids is perhaps one of the best known, but also one of the most difficult of all of Jesus’ parables. Perhaps this is because it really takes aim at us modern Christians – right where we are most vulnerable: the pace of life! On the one hand we live in a very fast-paced and impatient world.  We hate waiting; we are uncomfortable with silence. We need to have something going on all of the time. We get impatient with waiting at the doctor’s office or standing in long lines or with an internet connection that isn’t as fast as we would like.  We can hardly wait – we can hardly stand to wait!  But then on the other hand we are procrastinators. I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll finish that model with my son tomorrow, I’ll visit my mom in the nursing home tomorrow, I’ll start reading the bible and praying tomorrow, I’ll give a little more of my time and money to the church tomorrow, I’ll…. (You can fill in the blanks.)  So, to us busy, faced-paced procrastinators, Jesus has a parable – one that really focuses on the issue of time and raises some important questions about how faith is reflected in our lives.
The setting is a wedding.  Jesus apparently likes weddings.  In john his whole ministry begins at the wedding of Cana and in Matthew the settings of two of Jesus’ most challenging and difficult parables are weddings. Why? Well, weddings were very important in the ancient world. In many ways the future health and well-being of a community was dependent on weddings.  And so these were major events.  In a smaller village everyone would be invited and everyone would be involved.  The wedding events would begin with the groom and his party calling on the bride’s father and concluding the arrangements – dowry, wedding gifts, and so on.  Following that the bride would be presented to the groom, who would escort her to his home, then they would enter the bridal chamber alone for a while.  After all of that was concluded they would go in procession to the wedding banquet/party, which could last for the better part of a week.  So the 10 young women in our parable for today have been chosen to be a part of this final procession to the feast.
Now, apparently these young women are assuming that the procession will begin sometime around dusk.  Perhaps from previous experience they figure that all that other stuff will be concluded by then.  But for whatever reason it is not.  And they have to wait, and wait, and wait and wait.  So far in the story there is nothing to distinguish these girls one from another.  Each has been chosen to participate, each is prepared for the procession, each is waiting and each one of them ultimately falls asleep waiting.  It is only when the cry arises announcing the advent of the bridegroom that we realize there IS something that distinguishes these girls from one another.  Five of them had anticipated that the wait might be longer than anticipated and had brought extra oil, just in case.  The other five, well, they didn’t.  They thought perhaps that surely it can’t take that long and they were too excited and in too big a hurry to bother with extra oil.  But now, at midnight, the groom is coming, the procession is beginning and they are out of oil.  “Can we borrow some of yours?” They ask their sisters? “No, there isn’t enough,” comes the reply.  And so the five “foolish” girls rush out to search for oil in the middle of the night, trying I suppose to get it and get back in time.  But they fail, and they are then locked out of the party! Please note – these 5 “foolish” girls have brought “judgment” upon themselves, and it is administered by no less a person than the groom himself (not the servants!).  The foolish girls have excluded themselves from the party because they were not prepared to wait; because they ran out of oil and so their light went out. And without a burning lamp they cannot participate in the procession and they cannot enter the feast! 
This parable should by this time be easy to interpret: Jesus is the delayed Bridegroom; the Maidens are the disciples/believers of every age and the oil is faith active in the lamps of lives so that it burns brightly.  And, not surprisingly, there is a baptism connection.  In baptism we always conclude the baptismal liturgy by lighting a candle and handing it to the newly baptized (or to his/her parent) with these words: Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your father, who is in heaven.  This line is based on a teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:16). The light is the light of faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith in our Lord whom we expect at any moment, but faith that calls for us to expect and prepare for delay; faith in the crucified and risen Messiah whose light shines forth in the gift of faith that is bestowed upon us at baptism.
And remember faith in the bible is not just mental assent; faith is not passive. Faith is not a personal private thing; faith is not being religious.  Faith is always active; faith is public and visible to all – like a burning lamp; faith is always reflected in one’s life and priorities; faith is the light of Christ shining forth brilliantly through the lives of Jesus’ disciples of every time and place.
So are you prepared for the wait? Are you prepared to let the light of your faith, the light bestowed on you at baptism, are you prepared to allow it to shine forth in your life? How does your faith manifest itself in the way you live and the choices you make? How is the light of Christ shining forth in your life?  Are you in touch with the bridegroom though constant prayer? Are you participating actively in the life and ministry of your community of faith – through your giving of your time and talents and money? Are you ready to join in the procession and join the saints of every age at the wedding banquet of our Lord?  For ultimately this parable is not really about oil or lamps it is about being ready to meet the groom; it is about being ready to meet Jesus and join Him at the feast!

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