Proper 27, Year A - Sunday, November 6, 2011
Amos 5:198-24 --- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 --- Matthew25:1-13
Preaching rotas have a way of tripping me up – so do lectionaries. I’d like to have a bit more leeway. You know… Oh, I don’t like this gospel, let me pick another that’s more comfortable. One that won’t kick up so many questions. One that won’t go against what my mother taught me about sharing, for example. As in, “If you don’t give these young women some of your oil, I’ll be very disappointed!”
Picture credit: Frank Starmer
These strange passages of Jesus’ discourses are not the kind of Christianity most of us want. We had a friend in South Africa who said that what the Church desires is Christianity Lite. Non-disturbing, comforting, reassuring following the meek One who loved children so much! Who told us to be like children. (By the way, anyone who thinks that means being nice and eager to share, doesn’t know children!)
In our efforts to keep things nice, we often just don’t read what is there. We see what we want to see. And what we seem to want is for difficult truths to go away or at least to simplify. So we pick and choose. This part fits my ideas, I’ll keep that. Oooh, this is not nice, it must be wrong.
I don’t mean that all portions of Scripture have the same weight for us. Cultures have evolved, ethics have matured, and so on. The Levitical laws do not all apply in our faith tradition. We don’t keep kosher. We may not stone adulterers. You might get pork for lunch.
But some aspects of the Bible speak of things that are immutable, unchanging. The things which deal of justice and God’s righteousness which is love are not always palatable to our ears.
The words of the prophet Amos are among those. After putting the people squarely among those who perpetrate what they condemn in others with regard to the poor, he tells them this… don’t expect the Day of the Lord to raise you up. None of your efforts at righteousness will count for anything because you trample the poor and take from them levies of grain; you tax them but don’t pay any yourselves. (oops, did I just say something awkward?) You do all the “God” things and neglect the godly things. You preach morality; you sacrifice, you sing all the right songs, you pronounce yourselves God’s people but until justice flows like rivers and righteous concern for the poor and needy pour out, I do not hear you.
So the prophet calls us to live as God’s people must. Not with outward show but with inner love. And that won’t come about automatically. It takes practice. It comes from an open heart that doesn’t seek its own wellbeing but seeks the righteousness of God – that is, a righteousness that streams from love and spends itself in justice.
So to the ten bridesmaids! Not a clear story of redemption at all, I don’t think. Why didn’t the five prudent ones share their oil as out idea of politeness and propriety would demand? What about if someone asks for your shirt, give him your coat, too? What’s happening here?
I don’t believe this passage is about going to heaven or even being ready for the second kept out? Is heaven, then, all about good behavior?
And it’s certainly not about good manners or being good boys and girls. What Jesus is calling for in these last days is for his disciples to be prepared for whatever might come. Being a bridesmaid isn’t just about a pretty frock and parties. If the lights went out, nothing could happen. This is a story about faithfulness and commitment. Life in the kingdom, comes with responsibility. The wise ones knew this. They had prepared themselves with the hope and expectation of what was coming. They couldn’t give away the oil because it was the oil of long perseverance, the oil of faithfulness. Not something that can be dispensed automatically.
Jesus calls us to life in a kingdom that fully demands response. Christianity Lite is for comfort, for pleasant Sunday mornings. Or pleasant weekends in the monastery. Life in the kingdom calls us to be ready for the demands of being truly human as Jesus the Christ was. Life in the kingdom comes fraught with danger and the weight of being the people who do justice and love mercy.
There’s really no time for Christianity Lite. Look around us. Look at the desperation in the world; look at the hunger in the eyes of people. Face the unrest and fear humanity faces. Consider economies based on war and greed. Nothing soft will be sufficient to the challenges of love.
Look into the face of Christ and it will become clear as the Day.