So we are challenged to do justice, to share encouragement. In the Gospel, the parable of the ten bridesmaids that Jesus gives us today, is a story about living into hope & the encouragement to stick with it even when we have to wait.
As Jesus tells it, 10 bridesmaids were given the honor to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise and prepared (extra oil) 5 were foolish and had only oil in their lamp. The Bridegroom was delayed and all 10 slept. When he finally arrived the foolish ran to get more oil because their lamps grew dim but were not welcomed back when they returned.
It would be as if you had cleared security and gotten in the crowd to see the victorious candidate on Tuesday night, waiting all day with your camera and when the elected candidate arrives you realize your battery is dead and you did not bring a spare, you run out to get a battery but by the time you return, you cannot get back in.
Now Jesus tells us that this parable is how the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, so Keep awake says Jesus, be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the kingdom will come, for the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. And he is looking at our lives, and seeing how unprepared we are to live, how we don’t have that hope oozing through us, we don’t have that extra oil to be ready for what delays may come.
“Readiness in the Gospel of Matthew is all about living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Many can do this for a short while; but when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed…” (New Interpreters Bible) I think of the stories Bishop Sengulane shared with us last week about trying to keep peace before the eyes of the warring parties in Mozambique, year after year after year.
In the Jewish tradition having oil was often connected to one’s good deeds. Let me illustrate the parable with this true story:
A Washington, D.C., executive often would go to the noon Eucharist at a downtown church. One bitterly cold, windy day in February, he entered the church and took a seat. He noticed a few pews in front of him a man shaking uncontrollably. The man was undoubtedly homeless and had come into the church to get warm.A Washington executive realizes an opportunity lost: to bring the light and love of Christ the Bridegroom into another's life. The parable of the ten bridesmaids illustrates the precariousness and the preciousness of the time we are given to live lives that matter. We have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus' work of mercy and reconciliation; we only have so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives and to encourage others.
The executive began thinking about what he could do. How should he help this person who was in such obvious need? He knew the Gospel response would be to give the man his own coat - and he had an old frayed coat hanging in his closet at home that he would give to the poor man without hesitation. But today, the executive was wearing his very best dress coat, the one he had traded up to. And he was thinking how much easier it would be to deal with the issue if he were only wearing his old coat instead of his new one. But he had a whole afternoon of meetings and appointments and needed a coat.
The executive, a good man, could not decide what to do. He couldn't focus on the liturgy; he was totally obsessed with what he should do. He even considered giving the man money to buy a coat.
Finally, at the end of the service, totally transfixed on the plight of the poor man, the executive knew that he needed to give him his coat. So he went up to the man and he tapped him on the shoulder. He started to offer him his coat, but the man looked at him and thanked him and said, "Well, that's very kind of you, but that other man who was sitting over there gave me his coat."
And the executive wept. He was ashamed at the struggle that he had just gone through. He knew all along what was the right thing to do. And he failed. But he also wept in gratitude that someone was moved enough to follow Christ, to share from the abundance with which he had been given. [Adapted from a homily by the Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope, Washington National Cathedral, November 16, 2011. Used with permission.]
There is so much we want to do with our lives - but the many demands on our time to make a living derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God's loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all. Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five "foolish" bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom's arrival, but to embrace the wisdom of the five "wise" bridesmaids, trimming our "lamps" with the "oil" of justice, compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ's coming. To live those good works so all may come to see Christ in our midst. Amen.