The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 25:1-13

ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN IN THE MINISTRY FOR A WHILE CAN TELL ALL SORTS OF STORIES ABOUT WAITING FOR THE BRIDE TO COME TO THE ALTAR. SOMETIMES IT SEEMS THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB THE OFFICIANT HAS AT A WEDDING IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE CEREMONY STARTS ON TIME, AND IT IS USUALLY THE BRIDE THAT MAKES THE JOB SO DIFFICULT. IT IS FRUSTRATING AND OFTEN FUNNY. ONCE, IN SOUTH CAROLINA, THE WEDDING WAS RUNNING SO LATE THAT I WAS GETTING REALLY CONCERNED. THE GROOM AND HIS PARTY WERE IN PLACE, THE PEOPLE WERE WILTING IN THE SOUTH CAROLINA HEAT, AND THE ORGANIST WAS RUNNING OUT OF MATERIAL. FINALLY, IN MY VESTMENTS, I WALKED ACROSS THE CLOISTER TO THE FELLOWSHIP HALL WHERE THE BRIDE AND HER BRIDESMAIDS WERE GETTING READY. I KNOCKED ON THE DOOR AND CALLED OUT THE BRIDES NAME. “WHO IS IT?” SHE ANSWERED. “PASTOR GEORGE,” I SAID, AND SHE SAID TO COME IN. I STEPPED INTO THE ROOM AND WAS CONFRONTED BY THE SIGHT OF A BEVY OF YOUNG WOMEN IN BRAS AND PANTYHOSE TRYING TO FIT COWBOY BOOTS ON THE BRIDE. I SPUN AROUND, AND WITH A RED FACE DECLARED, “DEAR, WE REALLY HAVE TO GET MOVING;” AND THEN FLED BACK TO THE ALTAR.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, IT IS NOT THE BRIDE WHO IS LATE, BUT THE BRIDEGROOM. WEDDING CUSTOMS WERE DIFFERENT IN 1ST CENTURY JUDAH, AND A LITTLE CULTURAL BACKGROUND IS PROBABLY NECESSARY TO GRASP WHAT JESUS MEANS IN THE PARABLE. THE COUPLE WAS ENGAGED BY THEIR PARENTS, USUALLY AS CHILDREN AS THE FATHER OF THE BOY SOUGHT OUT A SUITABLE GIRL FROM A GOOD FAMILY WITH WHOM HE WANTED TO BE CONNECTED. THE FATHERS WOULD WORK OUT THE ENGAGEMENT CONTRACT, AND, WHEN THE YOUNG PEOPLE WERE OF AGE, THE FATHER AND HIS SON WOULD VISIT THE GIRL AND HER FAMILY. AT THIS VISIT, THE YOUNG MAN WOULD OFFER THE YOUNG WOMAN A CUP OF WINE, AND, IF SHE ACCEPTED IT, THEY WERE THEN BETROTHED. NOW, THE RELATIONSHIP WAS LEGALLY FORMAL AND COULD BE SEVERED ONLY BY A DIVORCE. THE YOUNG MAN WOULD THEN SAY, “I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU,” AND WOULD RETURN TO HIS FATHER’S HOUSE TO BUILD AN ADDITION ON THE HOUSE, OR BUILD A HOUSE OF HIS OWN. THIS MIGHT TAKE UP TO A YEAR OR MORE, AND WHEN IT WAS FINISHED, THE GROOM AND HIS PARTY WOULD COME IN THE NIGHT TO PICK UP HIS BRIDE FOR THE WEDDING BANQUET; WHICH WOULD LAST UP TO SEVEN DAYS, AND DURING WHICH THE MARRIAGE WAS CONSUMMATED.

A WEDDING WAS THE BIGGEST EVENT IN THE LIVES OF THE VILLAGERS, AND IS WHY JESUS USED THE WEDDING BANQUET AS A METAPHOR FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN SO OFTEN. THE BANQUETS WERE HELD AT NIGHT SO THAT THE ENTIRE VILLAGE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE. AS WEDDING BANQUETS WERE THE BIGGEST EVENT IN THE LIVES OF THE VILLAGERS, THE HEAVENLY BANQUET WILL BE THE EVENT YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO MISS. JESUS USED THE WEDDING BANQUET AS A PARABLE ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE, SINCE THE DISCIPLES WERE ASKING HIM ABOUT WHEN THIS WILL TAKE PLACE. “THEN,” HE SAID, MEANING AT THE END OF THIS AGE, “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WILL BE LIKE THIS,” AND HE TOLD THE PARABLE OF THE TEN BRIDESMAIDS.

MUCH HAS BEEN SAID OF THE TEN VIRGINS, OR BRIDESMAIDS, BUT NOT MUCH OF IT HELPFUL. ATTEMPTS TO ALLEGORIZE THE BRIDESMAIDS AS A DISCOURSE ON THE SAVED AND UNSAVED SEEM, TO ME, TO MISS THE POINT. THE PARABLE IS IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF WHEN THE END OF THE AGE WILL COME. FOR THE DISCIPLES, THE QUESTION IS RELATED TO THE OTHER ESCHATOLOGICAL TEACHINGS OF JESUS. FOR THE EARLY CHURCH, TO WHOM MATTHEW ADDRESSED HIS GOSPEL, THE QUESTION IS RELATED TO THE EXPECTED RETURN OF THE CHRIST. MANY HAD DIED WAITING FOR THE RETURN OF JESUS, AND, AS WE SEE IN PAUL’S LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS, SOME MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH WERE GETTING TIRED AND DISCOURAGED WITH WAITING. THE PARABLE OF THE TEN BRIDESMAIDS IS A BASIC LESSON ON HOW TO WAIT ON THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S PLAN.

TEN BRIDESMAIDS GATHER IN THEIR WEDDING ROBES AND CARRYING THEIR LAMPS TO WAIT FOR THE COMING OF THE BRIDEGROOM. AS WEDDING BANQUETS WERE HELD AT NIGHT, THE GIRLS WERE THERE TO LIGHT THE WAY OF THE GROOM TO THE BANQUET, AND, SOME SCHOLARS SUGGEST, PERFORM A DANCE WITH THEIR TORCHES FOR THE MARRIED COUPLE. THE LAMPS WERE ON POLES, TO BE HELD HIGH TO LIGHT THE WAY, AND TO GIVE A STUNNING EFFECT IN THE DANCE. FIVE WERE PHRONIMOI, OR PRUDENT, BECAUSE THEY BROUGHT EXTRA OIL IN FLASKS FOR THEIR LAMPS. FIVE WERE MORAI, FOOLISH OR STUPID (FROM WHICH WE GET THE WORD MORON) BECAUSE THEY BROUGHT NO EXTRA OIL.

EVERYTHING WAS READY, THE HOUSE WAS BUILT, THE GROOM WAS KNOWN TO BE ON THE WAY, BUT THERE WAS NO SET TIME FOR THE BANQUET TO BEGIN. IT WOULD START WHEN THE GROOM ARRIVED. THE WISE BRIDESMAIDS WERE PREPARED FOR WHENEVER THE GROOM WOULD ARRIVE, EVEN IF HE WAS DELAYED, WHILE THE FOOLISH ONES THOUGHT THE WAIT WOULD BE SHORT. THE WAIT WAS SO LONG THAT ALL OF THEM FELL ASLEEP. THE SHOUT AT MIDNIGHT, “LOOK! HERE IS THE BRIDEGROOM! COME OUT TO MEET HIM,” TOOK THEM ALL BY SURPRISE. THEY WERE ALL SURPRISED, BUT FIVE OF THEM WERE PREPARED TO JUMP UP, OIL THEIR LAMPS, AND GREET THE BRIDEGROOM, WHILE FIVE WERE CAUGHT SHORT OF OIL AND UNPREPARED.

THE CRUX OF THE MATTER IS THAT THE BRIDEGROOM WILL COME AT HIS TIME AND NOT AT WHAT EXPECTATIONS THE FOOLISH BRIDESMAIDS PLACED ON HIM. THE SIGNS WERE ALL THERE THAT HE WAS COMING, SO IT WAS CRUCIAL TO BE PREPARED FOR HIS ARRIVAL. THE FIVE PRUDENT BRIDESMAIDS WERE NOT BEING MEAN OR SELFISH IN REFUSING TO SHARE THEIR OIL; THEY NEEDED IT TO LIGHT THE WAY FOR THE COMING GROOM. THE FIVE FOOLISH BRIDESMAIDS WERE FOOLISH INDEED, BECAUSE THEY WERE UNPREPARED, AND IN TRYING TO PREPARE AFTER THE COMING OF THE BRIDEGROOM THEIR EFFORTS WERE POINTLESS, BECAUSE THEY MISSED OUT ON THE WEDDING BANQUET.

THE ADMONISHMENT FROM JESUS WHICH ENDS THIS PARABLE IS NOT “KEEP AWAKE,” AS THE MODERN TRANSLATION GIVES US. RATHER IT IS IN THE GREEK, “BE WATCHING THEREFORE;” AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MEANING. TO KEEP WATCH IS DIFFERENT FROM JUST BEING AWAKE. TO KEEP WATCH INCLUDES AN ACTIVE PREPAREDNESS FOR THAT WHICH WILL COME WHENEVER IT WILL COME. THE FIVE FOOLISH BRIDESMAIDS ARE NOT CONDEMNED FOR SLEEPING, BECAUSE ALL TEN FELL ASLEEP. THEY ARE REJECTED FOR NOT BEING WATCHFULLY PREPARED. “BE WATCHING THEREFORE, FOR YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.”

THE THING ABOUT WATCHFUL PREPAREDNESS IS THAT IT CAN NOT BE SHARED; BUT ONE CAN, AS PAUL DID IN HIS LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS, ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO BE PREPARED, AND KEEP WATCH, EVEN OVER THE LONG HAUL. AS WE MOVE TOWARD THE SEASON OF ADVENT, WHEN WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE THE COMING OF THE CHRIST AS THE CHILD IN THE MANGER, WE MUST ALSO PREPARE, AND ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO PREPARE, FOR THE COMING OF THE CHRIST IN ALL HIS GLORY AT THE END OF THE AGE. THIS WE CAN DO BY KEEPING OUR OIL FLASKS FILLED TO THE BRIM, READY TO BURST OUR TORCHES INTO LIGHT AT THE SOUND OF THE TRUMPET ANNOUNCING HIS RETURN.

THROUGH PRAYER, THROUGH STUDY, THROUGH WORSHIP, THROUGH CHARITY, THROUGH ACTS OF LOVING KINDNESS, THROUGH BEING THE BODY OF CHRIST TO OUR NEIGHBORS NEAR AND FAR, WE DAILY RECHARGE THE HOLY OIL OF OUR SPIRITS. IN SO DOING, WE CAN LIVE A LIFE OF CONSTANT WATCHFUL PREPAREDNESS. WE CAN NOT DO THAT FOR ANOTHER, BUT WE CAN ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER TO DO THE SAME. WE DO THIS BY TELLING EACH OTHER, AND ALL WHO CAN HEAR, ABOUT WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US IN JESUS, WHAT JESUS IS DOING FOR US NOW, AND WHAT JESUS WILL DO WHEN EVER HE RETURNS.

WE KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR WHEN THE BRIDEGROOM WILL COME TO CLAIM HIS BRIDE. HE MAY NOT COME IN OUR LIFETIMES, BUT IN KEEPING WATCH AND BEING PREPARED, WHEN EVER HE COMES, NOW OR AFTER OUR LIVES ARE OVER, HE WILL SEE THE GLOW OF OUR LAMPS AND, IN OUR JOYOUS WELCOMING OF HIS COMING, HE WILL WELCOME US TO THE WEDDING BANQUET WITHOUT END.
AMEN

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