How is that working out for us? How well has that served us - all of us, in the past? What kind of system will that leave for future generations? It does not take much convincing to realize our current system is not what God intended it to be. That is not to say humanity does not have its moments of doing better, of putting others first, and of helping one another. In general however, here and around the world, we operate from and exist in a system of honor, shame, competition, greed, power, division, and fear. That is not the kind of kingdom we were created for.
That is why everything Jesus did was a message, lesson, or example of the Kingdom of God - the kind of community God intended for us to be then and now. Through the telling of parables, Jesus drew upon the people, places, and practices that the disciples were familiar with, and revealed to them a new way to understand the concept of community - a new way to be God’s community. Using objects, events, and scenarios common to them Jesus gave them a new way to understand who their neighbor was, to see and experience what true hospitality looked like, how servanthood would turn hierarchy upside down, and how authority, sacrifice, and eternal life were all connected in Christ. From the first day Jesus called them to “come and follow,” the disciples had one object from: believe in who he was and live out his ways. If they could fully embrace and carry out that objective they would be living examples of the Kingdom of God and those around them would see the kind of community God intended all along.
The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids appears in a section of scripture known as the “judgment discourse,” (NIB) which right away makes some readers uncomfortable and others defensive. Yet, all that means is that it is found in a section in which Jesus criticized the religious leaders, challenged the rules and ways of thinking that limited God’s love, presence, and forgiveness to an elite few, and warned people, primarily those in the church, to stop playing games with their faith and instead always be ready to encounter Jesus - always be ready to encounter God’s work now and in the future.
When we approach this parable with western eyes it may seem based in unusual practices, perhaps even unrealistic or completely made up. However, it doesn’t take much looking to find that around the world, even today, there are cultures in which this wedding scenario could play itself out. The language would not have been foriegn to the hearers of the day and in other places of scripture, Jesus does describe himself as the bridegroom coming for his bride, the church.
Far too many times in the western church and in some Christian circles today, followers of Jesus do not know how to keep oil in their spiritual lamps and pay attention to the Spirit of God. A church cannot sustain itself on potlucks and picnics or on Christmas and Easter alone. Believers cannot persevere on special services or seasonal activities alone. We must be fueled throughout the year, every day, every week, every month. All the planning, preparation, organizing, rehearsing, and energy put into one special moment does not a church make. A momentary mountain top moment, heightened emotion, a powerful prayer, stirring music, or a single profound insight, a lifetime supply of faith does not provide. Without follow up, preparedness, discipleship, growth, and intentionality, the oil runs out and while we are scrambling to find more, or focussing only on the end goal and not the process, or running from one thing to the next to the next in search of answers, we miss it. We need to keep our lamps and the lamps of others full - so that we do not miss those moments when Jesus passes by. Those moments when God’s divinity brushes up against our humanity and we find a way through that we hadn't seen before, or we come to understand another way of doing and being or we see the kind of community Jesus intended us to be.
Matthew chapters twenty-two through twenty-five, where the story of the bridesmaids is found, show Jesus’ followers the flaws in the kingdom of humanity verses the kingdom of God, the price he was willing to pay to make it right again, and how it was up to them, his followers, to prepare, watch, and be willing to go the long haul.
The Kingdom of God is both now and not yet. It is both judgment and grace, struggle and peace, tradition and progress, physical and spiritual, brokenness and healing, and being lost and being found.
Throughout this season of Lent, we have been given the opportunity to see God in plain sight and realize that things like dust, bread, the cross, coins, shoes, and oil can bring us closer to comprehending the Kingdom of God. May we strive to live out the lessons we have learned.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine