The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 25:1-13

 

WAITING IS NOT SOMETHING I DO REALLY WELL. IF WE ARE EXPECTING A GUEST, YOU CAN USUALLY FIND ME AT THE WINDOW, ALONG WITH OUR DOG, LOOKING DOWN THE STREET TO SEE IF OUR GUEST HAS ARRIVED. MY TENSE EXPECTATION TENDS TO MAKE OUR DOG NERVOUS, SO HE STARTS TO WHINE, AND EVENTUALLY BARKS AT ME AS IF HE WERE ASKING, “WHAT’S GOING ON? WHO’S COMING?” I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER MET ANYONE WHO LIKES WAITING, WHETHER FOR GUESTS, OR AT THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE, AND DEFINITELY NOT AT THE DMV. AT LEAST AT THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE THERE IS A STACK OF OUT OF DATE MAGAZINES TO COUNTERACT THE DEADLY BOREDOM THAT SETS IN. THE EPISTLE AND THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY ARE ALL ABOUT WAITING, AND THE GOSPEL, FOR ONE, NEEDS A CLOSE LOOK TO FIGURE OUT WHAT JESUS WAS GETTING AT IN HIS PARABLE OF THE TEN BRIDESMAIDS, BECAUSE IT IS NOT WHAT IT FIRST APPEARS TO BE.

FIRST OF ALL, THE PARABLE IS NOT REFECTIVE OF FIRST CENTURY JUDEAN WEDDING PRACTICES. THE CUSTOM WAS THAT ONCE THE ADDITIONS TO HIS FATHER’S HOUSE HAD BEEN FINISHED, THE GROOM WOULD COME TO THE HOME OF THE BRIDE AS A PART OF A GRAND PROCESSION. SINCE THE NEW DAY STARTED AT DUSK, THIS MARRIAGE PARADE WOULD TAKE PLACE AFTER DARK. THE GROOM WOULD RECEIVE HIS BRIDE FROM HER FATHER, THEN EVERYONE, BRIDESMAIDS INCLUDED, WOULD PROCESS TO THE GROOM’S HOME FOR THE WEDDING BANQUET, THE WAY LIT BY THE OIL LAMPS CARRIED BY BOTH BRIDESMAIDS AND GROOMSMEN. THE ACTUAL MARRIAGE WOULD TAKE PLACE AT THE BANQUET, WHICH COULD LAST FOR DAYS, DURING WHICH THE COUPLE WOULD RETIRE TO CONSUMMATE THE MARRIAGE. THIS ABBRIVIATED VERSION OF THE MARRIAGE CUSTOM IS NOT ABOUT THE MARRIAGE, BUT IS, RATHER, ABOUT WAITING.

ONE OF THE ODDITIES OF THE PARABLE IS THAT JESUS IDENTIFIES AT THE START WHO WAS WISE AND WHO WAS FOOLISH; SINCE HE USUALLY LEFT THE INTEPRETATION UP TO THE HEARERS. THE WISE BRIDESMAIDS BROUGHT ALONG EXTRA OIL FOR THEIR LAMPS JUST IN CASE THE GROOM WAS DELAYED; THE FOOLISH BRIDEMAIDS DID NOT, RELYING ON WHAT EVER OIL WAS IN THEIR LAMPS. WHEN THE GROOM WAS DELAYED BEYOND ALL EXPECTATION, THEY ALL GOT BORED AND FELL ASLEEP IN THE DARK. NONE OF THEM CAN BE BLAMED FOR FALLING ASLEEP, SINCE NO ONE LIKES TO WAIT, AND EVERYONE’S EYES GET HEAVY AS THE NIGHT PROGRESSES.

WHEN THE CRY GOES UP THAT THE GROOM IS COMING, ALL THE BRIDEMAIDS TRIM THEIR WICKS, BUT THE ONES WHO DID NOT BRING EXTRA OIL ARE WORRIED THAT THEIR LAMPS WOULD GO OUT AND BEG FOR OIL FROM THE BRIDEMAIDS WITH EXTRA OIL. THEY REFUSE TO SHARE, BECAUSE THERE MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH FOR ALL, AND SEND THE FOOLISH BRIDEMAIDS TO THE SHOPS, AT MIDNIGHT, TO GET THEIR OWN OIL. A LITERAL READING OF THIS PARABLE WOULD SEEM TO INDICATE THAT THOSE WHO HAVE DO NOT HAVE TO SHARE WITH THOSE WHO HAVE NOT. THIS SELFISH BEHAVIOR IS APPARENTLY REWARDED AS THE SO-CALLED WISE BRIDEMAIDS GET TO GO INTO THE HOUSE FOR THE WEDDING BANQUET, WHILE THE SO-CALLED FOOLISH BRIDEMAIDS ARE LOCKED OUT AND REFUSED ENTRANCE. NONE OF THIS SOUNDS ANYTHING LIKE THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS WE HAVE COME TO KNOW; LIKE. “IF YOU HAVE TWO COATS AND YOUR NEIGHBOR HAS NONE, GIVE HIM ONE OF YOURS.” TO SEE THE BRIDEGROOM AS A CHRIST FIGURE CONTRADICTS EVERYTHING JESUS HAS SAID SINCE THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.

MATTHEW IS THE ONLY GOSPEL WRITER WHO HAS PRESERVED THIS PARABLE, AND SOME HISTORICAL CONTEXT IS HELPFUL. MATTHEW WROTE HIS GOSPEL AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM AND THE DISTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE. THE JEWS WERE KICKED OUT OF JERUSALEM BY THE ROMANS, AND WERE TRYING TO ADJUST TO THE NEW REALITY BY CLOSING RANKS AND MOVING THEIR WORSHIP FROM THE LOST TEMPLE TO THE SYNOGOGUES. ONE OF THE THINGS THEY WERE DOING WAS DEALING WITH THE SO-CALLED FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY; THE ONES LATER CALLED CHRISTIANS. THEY WERE BEING SHUT OUT OF THE SYNOGOGUES LIKE THE FOOLISH BRIDEMAIDS, BECAUSE THEY WERE EXPECTING THE IMMANENT RETURN OF JESUS. AN ENTIRE GENERATION HAD PASSED WHILE THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST WAITED IMPAITIENTLY FOR HIS RETURN, SO THIS PARABLE CAN BE SEEN AS AN ADMONISHION TO THEM TO NOT LOSE HOPE.

I DOUBT THAT ANYONE TRULY EXPECTS THE SECOND COMING TO HAPPEN TOMORROW, EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO PUT UP THE BILLBOARDS YOU CAN SEE AS YOU DRIVE THROUGH THE SOUTHERN STATES. AFTER ALL, WHILE THE EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE WAITING FOR OVER SEVENTY YEARS, WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR OVER TWO THOUSAND YEARS. FOR US, AS IT WAS FOR THEM, THERE IS THE HUMAN TENDANCY TO FIGURATIVELY FALL ASLEEP DURING THE LONG NIGHT AS DID ALL THE BRIDEMAIDS. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WISE AND FOOLISH BRIDEMAIDS WAS THAT THE WISE ONES WERE PREPARED FOR THE LONG HAUL, WHILE THE FOOLISH ONES EXPECTED A SHORT WAIT AND WERE UNPREPARED FOR THE DELAY. THE KEY TO THE PARABLE IS THE ADMONISHION TO “KEEP AWAKE,” MUCH MORE PRECISE WOULD BE, “KEEP WATCHFUL, THEREFORE, FOR YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.”

A RABBI OF OLD WAS TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES WHEN HE SAID THAT YOU SHOULD REPENT THE DAY BEFORE YOU DIE. WHEN HIS STUDENTS ASKED HIM HOW THEY COULD KNOW THE DAY THEY WERE GOING TO DIE, HE REPLIED (I PARAPHRASE), “GOOD POINT! YOU COULD DIE TOMORROW, SO YOU SHOULD REPENT TODAY.” THE CHRISTIAN LIFE SHOULD BE LIVED IN THE WATCHFULL EXPECTATION OF THE IMMANENT RETURN OF OUR LORD; AS IF WE EXPECT HIM TO APPEAR IN THE NEXT MOMENT, YET WITH ALL THE PREPARATION NESESSARY FOR THE LONG HAUL. THAT PERPARATION IS THE LIFE LIVED UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT; THE LIFE OF THE WAY OF THE CROSS IN SERVICE TO EACH OTHER AND TO ALL THOSE AROUND US. TO BE, AS LUTHER PUT IT, “LITTLE CHRISTS FOR THE WORLD.” IN LIVING THIS WAY, WHILE WE WAIT FOR HIS GREAT AND FINAL COMING, HE COMES TO US NOW, IN THE NEXT MOMENT, IN THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, IN THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE, IN THE ARM OF COMFORT OF A FELLOW BELIEVER, IN THE BREAD AND THE WINE AT THE ALTAR, AND IN THE SIMPLE ACTS OF GRACE SHOWN TO ONE IN NEED.

BE PREPARED AND, “BE WATCHFUL, THEREFORE, FOR YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR;” YET IN BEING PREPARED AND WATCHFUL, NOW IS ALWAYS THE DAY AND THE HOUR OF THE COMING OF THE LORD. AMEN

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