Sunday, November 9, 2014

Proper 27 A - Nov 9, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Peter Rostron, OHC
Proper 27 A, Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13
The Ten Bridesmaids
For the past several weeks, the Sunday gospel readings have been from Matthew’s account of Jesus preaching in and around the temple in the final days before his crucifixion and resurrection. What has struck me most has been the sense of urgency and exasperation in Jesus’s words and actions. In a section the lectionary happens to skip, Jesus exclaims, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” His first act upon entering Jerusalem was to violently overturn the tables of the merchants and money changers in the temple. He went on to tell a series of parables that convey the consequences of the people’s continued disregard for God: about tenants who killed the landowner’s son, about invited guests who were too busy to come to the king’s wedding banquet, about two women grinding meal together where one will be taken and one will be left at the end. In the face of fierce challenges by the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus responds with biting intensity: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” “You make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” And, echoing John the Baptist, “you snakes, you brood of vipers!” Jesus knows that his time on earth is running out, and it is urgent that he get his message across to “this faithless and perverse generation.”

Yet, I believe his sense of urgency and frustration is a reflection of the depth of his love for all humanity: the people alive in his day, those already asleep in the earth, and all who were yet to come, including us. There was in Jesus’s time, as there is now, a separation between God and the people, and God’s greatest desire, through his son Jesus Christ, was and is, for them and for us, to be God’s hands in creating God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus may have been frustrated with the people as his earthly days came to an end, but his infinite and passionate love for them transcended that. It is with that in mind that we can view the story of the ten bridesmaids. It is another of the parables of the past few weeks that conveys this dual sense of frustration but also love, of urgency but also hope, that I believe Jesus felt.

The final statement of this parable – “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." – conveys one of the key messages of the parable. Keep awake. Or, as I learned in Boy Scouts, be prepared, which certainly five of those bridesmaids were not. On the one hand, it seems harsh that those five foolish bridesmaids, who did not bring extra oil for their lamps, were not helped by their friends. Christ taught compassion, to help those in need. But before the act of helping a person in need can bear any fruit, I believe that person must also want to help themselves. They must play a role in their own salvation, if only by simply loving God within themselves and having a desire to know God. Those five bridesmaids did not display any care for themselves by failing to carry the extra oil needed to keep their lamps lit. They simply assumed that, at the last minute, someone else would step in to help them, with no effort of their own needed. They were indeed foolish, unprepared to do what was required of them to meet the bridegroom. As a result, their separation from God was made permanent. They were excluded from the kingdom.

The other five bridesmaids, who did bring oil for their lamps, were described as wise. And that, for me, is the second key message of this parable. Keep awake, and seek wisdom. The great significance and virtue of this pursuit is reflected in the existence of an entire collection of books in the Bible known as the wisdom books. We heard from one of them, the Wisdom of Solomon, this morning. Sometimes in those books, the person of wisdom, Sophia, speaks directly to us. I would like to add to what we heard earlier. In chapter eight of the book of Proverbs, we hear her say, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water...When he established the heavens, I was there...When he marked out the foundations of the earth...I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight.” I am always astonished at this portrayal of wisdom as a companion of Jesus. “In the beginning was the word,” and wisdom. Wisdom is essential in a journey to encounter God. It is to the wisdom of five of those bridesmaids that Jesus is calling our attention. It is in their wisdom that they were prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Keep awake, and seek wisdom.

A third aspect of this parable that intrigues me is the anticipation and joy it reflects, especially in the phrase, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” It is a joy similar to that which we experience as we anticipate the birth of Jesus during the season of Advent, which is just around the corner. “Look! Here is the Christ child! Come out to meet him.” It strikes me that we can view our experience of reading the parable of the bridesmaids, as well as the other parables in this section of Matthew’s gospel, as a kind of parallel, or prelude, to Advent. Rather than anticipating and welcoming the coming of the infant Jesus, we instead are anticipating his departure, and his resurrection, and his coming again. Of course, we consider these events later in the church year during Lent, but I’m thinking about them now not with the sense of grief and loss, and with the acts of penance, that fill Lent, but rather with feelings of preparation and enthusiasm, with a sense of joy in what resurrection will bring.

Keep awake, Seek wisdom, Joyfully await my coming. Those, to me, are the messages Jesus is speaking through his parable of the ten bridesmaids. They are part of Jesus’s larger message given throughout his final days before crucifixion and resurrection. Keep awake! Pay attention! Listen! This is important! The shepherds and the wise men acted in this manner and thus were present to bear witness to Christ’s first coming into the world. Before we celebrate and relive their experience next month as a new church year begins, we are being asked now to pay attention to Christ’s departure from this world, to keep awake, seek wisdom, and joyfully await our own resurrection when he comes again.

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