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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before November 9, 2014

Matthew 25:1-13

25“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; 4but 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.’ 7Then 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.’ 9But 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.

What I am Learning:

This is not a story about who gets into heaven. It is a story about being ready for God’s party.

In first-century Palestine the groom would go to the bride’s house and bring her back to his house. Then the party would begin. Until then the bridesmaids would keep their lamps lit in anticipation of the party!

The foolish bridesmaids thought they had it all figured out – they thought they knew when the bride and groom would be there and thus when the party would start. They thought they had it all figured out so they didn’t need to have extra oil. Thus when the groom and bride arrived they were not ready and had to leave to get more oil. They were denied entrance because their lack of preparedness would have been a significant dishonor to the groom.

To our Western ears this sounds harsh: Why not forgive the foolish bridesmaids and let them in?

But in our reading of this text, and many others, we personalize the story in a way that is not intended. In Western culture we tend to think that everything is about the individual human person. Combining this with centuries of Christianity where God is a judge who gives eternal sentences to heaven or hell, we tend to ask every text, almost without thinking: “What will the God-Judge say to us?”

We tend to apply this question to every text. This deadens our imagination about what the text is saying. It makes every text more fearful and more boring than it is. We often accuse the Bible of being judgmental, but in reality it is often our own expectation of judgmentalism that makes us hear and read it that way.

May the Holy Spirit continue to peel away the Western cataracts from our eyes to see the text in a fresh way!

It is not an example of how God is unforgiving, but a story about how God needs us —how God needs our readiness, our participation in God’s work of healing.

This story is meant to serve as a warning to those who put dates on the calendar for the healing of the world that would take place at Christ’s return instead of being prepared to participate in that healing with Christ every day.

This is a story version of Jesus’ statement in Acts:

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:6-8

Guestimates and estimates and expectations of when God will bring healing to the whole world are not in the job description of a disciple of Jesus – no matter how intoxicating that may be.

Rather we are to keep our lamp lit, and have the oil we need to keep our light lit. The light is the light of Christ in the world.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

There is a beautiful scene in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when Dumbledore dies and the students gather around his body. The dark mark is in the sky and all seems lost. The staff and students, slowly at first, raise their wands to display a small light, vulnerable against the immense darkness. But as more students raise their light the darkness retreats and the dark mark is erased from the sky.

As I remember the scene, Luna, an odd, foolish duck of a girl, is the first student to raise her wand, to raise her light in the darkness.

Could it be that this text is an invitation to us to do what it takes to keep our lamp lit, to keep hope alive within our chests?

Jesus knows the darkness before the party is immense and that our vulnerable lights don’t seem to like much. But our small light is a form of leadership itself, inviting others into a new orientation from despair to hope.

Jesus invites us to tend our lamps and to be ready and to realize that our being ready is already making a difference in the world, whether we know it or not.