The notion of being prepared always propels me back to my scouting days. I whole heartedly adopted the notion that it’s important to anticipate, to know what you might need and to be prepared, to the best of your ability, in any and every circumstance! Our scripture reading for this coming Sunday is all about being prepared. It’s a parable toward the end of Matthew’s gospel and one in a set of three parables that focuses on what’s called the Parousia or the “end times.” Those early Christians expected Jesus to return in the not too distant future and began to wonder about the delay. Matthew offered this parable as instruction and guidance for Christians awaiting Jesus’ return.
The scene is that of a wedding. The groom would have traveled to the bride’s home and then returned with her to his home for the wedding ceremony and celebration. The wedding party, not knowing exactly the timeline for their travel, would be gathered to meet them. In our parable for this week, there were ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom’s return. We’re told right away that five of the bridesmaids were wise and five were foolish. Now there wasn’t a lot that distinguished them. They were all appropriately dressed for the occasion. They were all present. They all got tired as the night wore on with no sign of the groom (aka Jesus). They all fell asleep. The one and only thing that distinguished the foolish from the wise is that the wise bridesmaids brought extra oil so they could light their lamps when the groom arrived.
That got me thinking…what was it about that oil? What might it have symbolized for Christians of Matthew’s day? What might it symbolize for us?
We’ll spend some time exploring this theme on Sunday. I’m writing this on Wednesday, November 4th, and I want to acknowledge that these are challenging days for our country. They’re challenging days for all of us. We’ve all experienced, and are likely still experiencing, the heaviness of these days that mirror back to us our deep divisions. How might Jesus’ words from this quirky and unsettling parable give us guidance, inspiration…light?
I’ve shared a link to Judy A Chicago’s Prayer for our Nation below. It’s one I’ve been holding in my heart for many days. I hope you’ll join us on Sunday for our livestream worship at 9:00. Please know that all are welcome to join the Wednesday Bible Study that reviews the scripture and sermon topic from the previous Sunday and reflects on the questions that are listed below. If you’re interested in joining us from 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, please notify the church office or Pastor Lori and we’ll send you the Zoom link. Drop-ins are welcome! Looking forward to being together on Sunday!
“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.
Consider these questions:
- Who do the people in this parable represent for Matthew?
- What is your understanding of the end times? What does that notion evoke in you?
- How do you make sense of the “wise” bridesmaids not sharing their oil with the “foolish” bridesmaids?
- What does the oil in the lamp represent to you?