It’s morning in the Ahearne-Ojeda-Parkinson household. Mom is biting her tongue as she watches her young adults get ready for work. Everyday it’s something. One or the other has overslept. They can’t find where they left an article of clothing. The shoes aren’t where they thought they left them. There’s a sip of coffee, downing of a couple of bowls of cereal. The inevitable arises: a mad scramble to locate misplaced car keys or bus money. Plaintive cries: Where did I put down my i-phone? My ancient pleas to take care of things the night before, to get up five minutes earlier, to be better prepared, has forever fallen on deaf ears. They have reached the age to know better, so I just sit back, deep breath, and let them face the consequences of not being better prepared.
“Be prepared” is the scout’s motto and it sums up the message of our scriptures today. Joshua is addressing the people of Israel, reminding them of their obligations as a covenant people of God as they prepare to enter the promised land. Know your history and remember how God has been faithful. Be prepared to carry out the obligations of the covenant, for God is a holy God, a consuming and exacting God. The passage from Matthew about the wise and foolish bridesmaids reminds us of the harsh reality of being unprepared: the foolish bridesmaids get left out in the cold on the night of the wedding feast.
On the surface of things, it seems as if Jesus has gone too far. Why shouldn’t the wise bridesmaids share? It seems like they are just being selfish not to share some of their oil. The bridegroom seems positively mean to refuse admittance to the foolish bridesmaids who come late. Isn’t a wedding a time for rejoicing, forgiveness and a largesse of spirit? Isn’t someone in the bridal party always late to some part of the function? Elsewhere in the scriptures, Jesus talks of weddings where everyone is invited and people on the byroads and highroads are brought in to join the celebration. The doors to the wedding feast are opened wide. Why the difference in our parable today?
The context of our story is important. A wedding was an important occasion in ancient Judea. It was often the highlight of celebration in the face of the drudgery of village life. Sometime after sunset the bridegroom would journey to the bride’s house to bring her to his parent’s house. From this text we can assume the bridesmaids had the important duty to provide the lighting along the way in the dark of the night. So, the wise bridesmaids were not being selfish but practical. They were looking out for the best interest of the wedding party. If they shared their oil with the foolish bridesmaids, there was the almost certain possibility that everyone would run out of oil and the wedding party’s procession would be left in darkness. This would be an unmitigated disaster. Better to have five lamps that are lit than have ten that go out.
Oil was the traditional Jewish symbol for the kind of faith that results in good deeds, or a robust faith. In Proverbs 13.9, the same oil and lamp imagery is used to depict doing the will of God: “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked goes out.” So, the story of the ten bridesmaids is a story to encourage us to keep up our good work especially in challenging ties. The story is also a cautionary tale for those whose faith is shaky. It reminds us we are members of the bridal party and have responsibilities to bring light to the darkness.
For us, the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids invites us to explore what it means for us to be prepared spiritually and in all matters of life. In order to be prepared, we have to think carefully, see clearly, and plan ahead. Despite all the commercials on financial planning, we don’t live in a culture that likes to plan ahead. As a nation, we have one of the lowest savings rates in the developed world. Some years ago, our savings rate dipped to a negative 1.2 percent, meaning we were living off savings or living off of our borrowing. According to US Census data, 50% of women and 47% of men between the ages of 55 and 66 have no retirement savings As a nation we are at a crossroads because we don’t prepare adequately. Remember when we were assured that the Iraq War would only cost us 60 Billion? Well, that amount has mushroomed to $3 trillion and counting – especially when we take in account the domino effect of the war bleeding over to other parts of the Middle East. This is because we weren’t fully ready as a nation to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. So, how do we handle these issues? What will happen to education, healthcare, roads, social services to the elderly, poor or disabled, immigrants, the very people the Bible calls us to care for? We must be awake and be prepared.
This past week, we observed the 85h anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of the broken glass,” on November 9, 1938. Over two days Nazis destroyed 250 synagogues, over 7,000 Jewish businesses, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted. 30,000 German Jewish men were arrested for the "crime" of being Jewish. Businesses owned by Jews were not allowed to reopen unless they were managed by non-Jews. Curfews were placed on Jews, limiting the hours of the day they could leave their homes. Because the world stayed asleep and refused to be awake against anti-Semitism, the holocaust occurred within ten years, killing six million Jews. We must remember Kristallnacht - along with the long history of conflict in the Middle East-- so that we can understand the rise of antisemitism in light of the recent Israeli – Hamas war. We must to present to history in all its complexities – in doing so we can then bring our light of compassion to shine on all who are victims in this current tragedy – Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Ultimately the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids teaches this to us that we are responsible for getting ourselves ready and keeping ourselves ready. Even if the wise bridesmaids wanted, they could not share their oil. It’s something we must acquire for ourselves. Nobody can receive the grace of God for us. No body can follow Christ for us. We each must have the oil of faith in our own lives to take the vital action to live out the kingdom values in a world darkened by sin or despair. Like Joshua, will we and our household serve God and serve our neighbor?
Let it be so. We are called to prepare to be a part of the wedding celebration of the kingdom of God. We are awake and ready, like the wise bridesmaids. We are awake and ready in the face of justice and peace delayed. We are awake and ready in a love-deprived world. We know that there are peoples not yet free. All divisions are not yet healed. All creatures do not yet sign God’s praise. Let us shine in the darkness, and may our light illumine a path forward. A way that takes us to the wedding feast where we wait to rejoice as brothers and sisters in God’s great kingdom. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikecollins/2015/07/14/the-big-bank-bailout/#e3272502d83f