Today was the final sermon in our series “Four Parables.” We finished up with “The Parable of the Bridesmaids.” We will begin a new series for Thanksgiving next Sunday. I hope you will join us live at 1025 Durst Street in Nacogdoches, TX or online live at https://www.facebook.com/groups/68531799825. Several places, including the above link will take you to the video on demand.
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. 4 But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.
5 “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’
9 “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.’ 10 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.
11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13, Common English Bible).
I want to tell you this morning, right up front, this text bothers me. It bothers me a lot. I have gone through the last couple of weeks with this parable bouncing around in my brain. I knew this is what I was supposed to preach, but part of this story leaves me really cold. I just don’t like it.
Jesus’ main point in this parable is our need for preparedness; we have to be ready for the return of Christ. Matthew is the only gospel where we find the Parable of the ten Bridesmaids. Matthew’s purpose in telling this story is to tell his first century readers they should wait expectantly and be ready for the return of Christ. You see, by the time of Matthew’s gospel Christians already expected Jesus’ return and man were growing weary of waiting.
As is the case with most of Jesus’ parables we cannot just take this story at face value. There is more at stake here. Often, particularly in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explains the meaning of his parables to the disciples, but not here. Still, if we think a little and try to understand some of the customs we can learn some of the parable’s meaning.
This story is both parable and prophecy. The ten virgins or ten maidens or ten bridesmaids (depending on the translation you read) represent Christians who are awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom, Jesus the Messiah. The bridegroom’s delay alludes to the idea that Jesus has not returned as soon as many had hoped. The marriage feast symbolizes the life of the age to come. The closed door stands for the last judgment. Five
bridesmaids having all they needed and five don’t represents shows not all will be ready when the kingdom comes of age and we arrive at the last judgment. So far, so good. To this point I don’t really have any big problems with this story.
I really do understand the main point is for us to be ready for the return of Christ because we know neither the day nor the hour. That is the prophetic element of the parable. Where I do have a problem in the story is a bit more subtle. The five bridesmaids who were not ready when the groom arrived asked the other five to share their oil and were rejected.
That bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Did you catch my point?
Like most of you, I was raised in a good Christian home. I was raised to be
generous with what I have. My parents taught me to share the things God has blessed me with, even when it may seem I don’t have enough to meet my own needs. I was taught if we were generous with what we have, even to the point of self-sacrifice, God would bless us for our generosity.
What I was taught in Sunday school, from childhood to adulthood backed up what my parents drilled into me. What we teach about tithing is the same. If we are faithful in giving, even if its a sacrifice, God will be faithful to us and we will be blessed by our efforts.
I believed that growing up. That, I believed, is what the Bible said we should be and do. To do anything less would mean we are less than the disciples God calls us to be.
Along comes this lesson. It seems to blow everything out of the water.
Remember, Jesus talking here. Its the same Jesus talking in our lesson, who said earlier in Matthew’s gospel, “if anyone wants to take your coat give them your cloak as well” and then later, the last third of this same chapter he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” Yet here he is telling a story where one of the main points of the story where one of the main points of the story is the praise and correctness of the five “wise” maidens who wouldn’t share with the five “foolish” maidens.
Is it just me? Does this make sense to anyone? It seems to me this isn’t very
Christian behavior. It is pure selfishness. I know the point of the story is preparedness, but are we not called to help others prepare? As I am reading it would seem in this one lesson, Jesus contradicts some of the most basic beliefs I have about what it means to be Christian. He contradicts some of his own teaching and that bothers me.
As I was tossing these ideas around in my mind a light seemed to come on. It dawned on me our lesson is a parable and things are not always what they seem on the surface. Maybe what Jesus was saying wasn’t about sharing (or not sharing) at all. Maybe what Jesus meant was there are some things we can’t share necessary for us to have life in the kingdom to come. Perhaps there are some things in life we can’t share no matter how much we might want to do so.
It wasn’t too many years ago when the idea of sharing one’s organs was
completely impossible. I remember as a child hearing about the first heart transplant.
Today they are serious, but fairly routine. We also hear of cornea, kidney, bone marrow, liver and more. At least some of these, we can continue to function as normal, even when we share these organs with someone else.
Yes, there are those organs we can’t share, but for the most part, we can share what we have with others.
So, I went to bed one night, very tired and thinking really hard about this idea. What is it we can’t share? I woke up in the middle of the night and realized at least one thing we can’t share is time. I can use my time to come help you, and in doing so I share some of myself with you.
But, I can’t say, “here is an hour or two of my time, you use it.” I can’t give up some of my time to increase your time to say 25 or 26 hours a day.
Who among us, when it comes to someone we love and have lost would not gladly give up a few years of our own lives in order to have the person we love for just a little more time. It would be our heart’s desire, yet we all know such things are not possible.
Time, at least in this manner of speaking can’t be transferred from one person to another.
I got out my commentaries and started reading. Of course they were not all in agreement, they rarely are. Such is the reasons preachers have more than one. I discovered the idea did have some merit.
I truly believe what Jesus was saying to us is, there are some things we can’t share with others, no matter how much we might want to. And, they are things necessary to our salvation. As I read on, I found a few opinions they talked about, from a spiritual sense, just what some of those might be.
The first was spiritual piety. The word piety is where we get the word pious and these days it often seems to have a negative connotation in our society like, “Look at him. Doesn’t he just think he is so pious?”
If we are to be ready for the coming of the Messiah we must live a life showing we belong to Him. As Christians we must live a life of prayer, devotion, meditation, study, and worship. God wants us to live our lives in a relationship so close to God we begin to think, at least some of the time, as God thinks. That is a life of spiritual piety. And, a life of piety is something we must do for ourselves. We can’t say, my parents, my friends, my
neighbor, my Sunday school teacher, or whoever live high spiritual lives and expect their pious life is good enough not only for themselves but for us too. They can’t share their piety with us. We must develop a life of piety for ourselves. With a life of spiritual piety we will be preparing for His coming.
The second idea I found in the commentaries was good works. It doesn’t mean good works buy our salvation, instead we are putting faith into action. It means things my parents taught me when I was growing up. It does mean things like giving someone our cloak and feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty something to drink. Good works are a necessary part of the Christian life. We always have to remember the letter of James, “Faith without works is dead.” Yes that’s in the Bible too. Others can do good works for us, on other words, they can help us. But they can’t share their good works with us. We must live and act as Christians in a way showing our preparation for the coming Messiah.
The third idea comes from sixteenth century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther.
He believe the oil represents faith. Each of us have opportunities in our lives to respond to the call of Christ. Some of you may have heard me talk in the past about sharing our faith. And, in the manner I meant it, it is a true statement. As a literal statement, however, it is pretty inaccurate. The truth is, we can’t share our faith, as much as we might want to with other people. We can share the stories about our faith, which is what I really meant when I talked about sharing your faith. But, in the strict sense of the saying, we can’t share our faith. We can only tell people what God has done in our lives and we belie it was God at work in our lives. The rest remains between them and God.
Faith is something we must have if we are to have life in the Kingdom of God. It isn’t something we can borrow or buy or share. We can only get it by responding, in advance, to the call of God in Jesus Christ.
Does this mean if we do good works now, live a spiritual life now and next week, next month or next year we break from church, we then lack preparedness? Perhaps not.
It may well be we are always ready and waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, Jesus.
But I know and believe this, when we allow ourselves to be separated from God and from the people of God it starts to become difficult to do some of those good works, our spirituality suffers and it becomes very hard to keep the faith. Without those things in an active part of our lives, like the lamps running out of oil, our light begins to fade. It may never go totally out, but can we truly say we are ready for the arrival of the bridegroom?
There is good news. We can get our oil now. We can do the work of God in the world. We can live spiritual lives. We can come to the faith through worship and study and so many of the other things coming with being a part of the body of Christ. We renew our piety. We strengthen our spirituality. We exercise our faith. We strengthen ourselves for going out into the world to do the work of God. In short, when we come to worship or
go to Sunday school or Bible Study, we are getting the oil we need. We are making ourselves ready for the return of the Lord. May we all have oil in our lamps. May they shine bright. Let us all be ready as we wait for the Lord.
Be Blessed and have a great week.
Seeking the Genuine,
Pondering with DrB
“You’re Supposed to Share”
Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church
Spirit’s Breath Ministries