Have you ever had those dreams where you show up at the wrong time and wrong place for some really important function? When I was in school they all revolved around exams or papers. The dream would usually start with going to the classroom where my exam only to realize that I’m the wrong place and even worse than that I studied for the wrong exam. In the last number of years, I’ve moved on to Sunday morning dreams. I show up at the church but I can’t find my sermon or I didn’t write a sermon or sometimes I just can’t seem to turn down the right road to get to the church.
The parable Jesus tells about the 10 bridesmaids – the five foolish and the five wise, reminds me of those dreams – well at least on the part of the foolish ones who couldn’t get into the celebration because they didn’t pack extra oil. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this…” (Matthew 25:1) Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t is like but will be like? It is so clear. And yet the parable is anything but clear. There are 10 bridesmaids who all took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise and brought extra oil with them and 5 were foolish and didn’t bring extra oil. But the bridegroom is delayed and all those bridesmaids fall asleep. Finally, at midnight someone shouts, “The bridegroom is here! Come to meet him.” The Bridesmaids rub the sleep from their eye, get up and trim their lamps. Then the foolish ones realize that they are going to run out and ask the wise ones to share their oil with them. They refuse and send them off to buy more oil. When they come back, the bridegroom won’t let them in. Not only that the bridegroom says, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12)
Here are some of my questions. So much of the gospel story is about love and mercy. Why didn’t the wise ones share with the others? Why did they get locked out? Jesus is all about opening doors for everyone. As you can tell, my sympathies are with those 5 foolish bridesmaids. Locked out of the wedding banquet after waiting so long and then running to get oil and running back to the feast only to be told they can’t come in. You can see why the parable reminds me of a bad dream. First not prepared. Second having to go on a mad dash to pick up what you forgot and then not being let in. This does not sound like the kingdom of heaven that I’m used to hearing about. The kingdom of heaven is normally a place where justice and mercy are plentiful. Where God’s love seems abundant.
A little context helps a lot with this parable. Matthew’s gospel was written long after Jesus’s death and everyone is waiting for his return. David Lose writes “By the time Matthew wrote this parable, the discipleship community may have been waiting for Jesus’ return for fifty years or more. Most of the eye-witnesses were likely dead. The church had spread, but it had also been oppressed. The Temple revered by both the Jews who confessed Jesus and those who did not had been destroyed, wreaking havoc on Jewish and Christian communities (sometimes worshiping together) alike. Where was Jesus? Yes, the waiting is the hardest part.” (In the Meantime, November 8th)
Waiting is hard and I would say many if not most of us are not all that good at waiting. I know I’m not. I like to have the things I want right away. Dr. Seuss in his book OH the Places You Will Go describes the waiting place as the most useless of all places. “Waiting for a train to go or the mail to come or the rain to go or the phone to ring or the snow to snow or waiting around for a yes or no or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for the uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or string of pearls, or a pair of pants or wig with curls or another chance. Everyone is just waiting.”
For over two thousand years, as a people of faith, we’ve been waiting for that day when Jesus will return. The early disciples believed that Jesus return was going to happen right away. It was a complete surprise to them that they waited for something that did not happen. It is almost as though Jesus is telling this parable to help us with what we aren’t good at – waiting. Because every parable says we do not know the day or the hour of Jesus return. But no one dreamed that it would take over two thousand years. The waiting Jesus was talking about is not a usesless kind of waiting. It’s not about watching the hours tick away on a clock. It is waiting with purpose. This is a kingdom of God parable.
Jesus showed us the way at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel – we heard them last week. The beatitudes set the stage for how we wait. Our calling is to comfort the grieving, to be merciful, to be pacemakers, to care for others in our midst. As we do all these things we are making God’s kingdom real. It’s the waiting Jesus talks about later in this chapter when he says,
“Come, you that are blessed by Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and visited me. …Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34 – 36, 40)
In this waiting time, we are sometimes going to get it just right like the wise bridesmaids. We are ready and celebrating at the feast. And sometimes we are going to be like the foolish ones, we are going to be late and not have everything we need to enter the celebration. But our God’s mercy is infinite and there are always second chances. As we wait in hope, for that day when Christ comes again, let us be about God’s work of mercy and compassion. Amen.