Please hold. Your call is important to us and one of our representatives will answer you as soon as possible. Please stay on the line, you call will be answered in priority sequence.
Next, we cue really bad music, usually played at a volume much higher than the pre-recorded voice message. And then we wait.
Delay is difficult and nowhere is delay most obvious than when we are on hold, waiting for the answer to a pressing question. Most often with a half dozen other pressing tasks requiring our attention.
We live in a fast-paced world and delay disrupts this. Therefore, delay upsets us, just as a child will ask ‘are we there yet’ five times in five minutes when clearly, we are not there yet. Especially difficult when we have been to a location before, but imagine you’ve never been to where you are going and can’t with any degree of accuracy predict when you will arrive.
Delay disrupts our plans, throws a wrench in an otherwise perfect day. It brings uncertainty and a level of anxiety. I wonder how the delay of the groom affected those ten bridesmaids. Of course, you might be asking the question, why are the bridesmaids hanging out waiting for the groom? Shouldn’t they be with the bride?
Perhaps a brief understanding of ancient wedding customs might be helpful. Weddings in the time of Jesus were just as big a deal as they are now. Emotional events where two families come together. Guests would assemble at the home of the bridge and were entertained by her parents. The bridesmaids would keep an eye out for the groom, when they saw him they would light torches and go and greet him. Then the entire procession would travel to the groom’s parents house for the ceremony to occur and an extended feast.
In our parable today, for some unknown reason the groom is delayed. In the process of waiting all ten bridesmaids grow tired and fall asleep. I suppose it’s a little like the hurry up and wait mentality which was drilled into me when I served with the Canadian Forces. Be ready and then wait, expect in this instance the waiting takes so long they all fall asleep.
In the telling of the parable Jesus informs us that five of the bridesmaids are wise and five of them are foolish. Those who are wise brought extra oil, those who are foolish don’t have enough. At this point the parable starts conjuring thoughts of the Boy Scouts motto of ‘always be prepared’ and other similar slogans.
More than anything else, it’s going to be a long night for those who are waiting.
Now as the parable goes, when the groom finally shows everyone jumps up. But the five foolish bridesmaids realize they don’t have oil. The ask for the oil to be shared are denied, and then rush off at midnight looking for more oil. The result is that they are not recognized when they arrive at the closed doors of the banquet. It sounds harsh and if you are also feeling that way, I believe it arrives at our own fear of being denied entry to the banquet. We’re afraid we will also find the door shut, we desperately don’t want to be like those five foolish bridesmaids.
I wonder what might have happened if those five supposedly foolish bridesmaids didn’t go get more oil? What if they had confidence in what they had brought, might the story have ended differently? Was it fear and uncertainty that drove them to find more? Might they already have had enough? The treasures we store and hoard are only good for this side of eternity, there is more than enough light at the banquet.
If we are wondering why the wise bridesmaids didn’t share their oil, remember that this is a parable about what the kingdom of heaven is like. It was never extra oil that they carried. It was faith and good works. If only those other five had trusted that perhaps they had done enough, had believed in what the groom represents.
What we have is a parable about living with expectant hope, trusting in the one who will come, placing our faith with them. Christian hope resides in the knowledge that the God who create the world will continue to love the world.
The parable cautions against idle readiness, but recognition that the bridegroom might be delayed. We are prepared for the return, but also for the delay. This is the wise disciple. The problem today is that we have stopped waiting, we give little thought to Christ’s return. The predominant culture of the day is not concerned with Christ’s return. It does not impact the daily walk or factor into decision making.
In our readings from both Amos and Matthew, people are expecting salvation. In Amos, it is deliverance from rulers and priests who pay lip service to God’s commands. In Matthew, people are looking for freedom for the yoke of Roman oppression.
Amos tells us that God is disappointed with the people. That their festivals no long please God. Instead, Amos tells us that God wants justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Matthew reminds us to be ready, not necessarily vigilant, remember that all the bridesmaids fall asleep. But ready for the hour when the groom comes, ready for the hour when Christ returns. We don’t need to store up treasures, but to ensure we have placed our trust in the one who calls us and called creation good.
There is a story that someone once asked Martin Luther what he would you do if he knew Jesus was coming again tomorrow. The response, “I think I’d go out and plant an apple tree.”
There is a quote that I am fond of. It is posted to the wall of my study at home, right above my computer monitor. I read it every day. It is attributed to a rugby player named Nelson Henderson, though further research indicates that the quote is more accurately attributed to a farmer from Manitoba with the same name. Either way the quote reads, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Somewhat like that apple tree that Martin Luther spoke of planting.
Or perhaps we might liken it to the image that Amos bring us. Not of standing in the shade of a tree, but under the rush of a waterfall, a constant deluge of God’s justice and righteousness. This is how God wants us to behave. This is the work we engage in while we wait for the bridegroom. Professor Margaret Odell writes, “Justice and righteousness are Israel’s hoped for salvation and they have been present all along.”
The Messiah will come at the right time, which is different from coming at a convenient time or on our time. But when he comes, he brings the party with him. Thanks be to God. Amen.