To our modern minds, waiting feels like we’re losing productive time. And most of the time it is, unless of course we’re waiting for something worthwhile, like the reveal at the end of suspenseful movie or for the Advil to kick in so the pain will go away.
Sometimes waiting is the best thing we can do…especially when our anger or frustration flares up. More often than not, God makes us wait, and often for a good purpose.
I had to wait six months before God awoken my heart to plant a church. While I spent most of that time filled with stress and having doubts, God was busy assembling the right community to launch what is now Anamesa that space between every second of life.
Life is a game of waiting for the next thing to happen. As we will see from our reading today in Matthew 25:1-13, how we wait is equally as important as what we are waiting for.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” ut the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. - Matthew 25:1-13. -
The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is unique to Matthew’s gospel. It comes at the midway point of Jesus’ discourse about “End Times,” which will mean something different to everyone. Although Jesus makes it perfectly clear we have no ideas when that time will come, many people would argue it’s just around the corner. Whether or not that’s the case, Jesus tells us to “Keep awake.”
I take this to mean, be present, be mindful, be right here, right now, ready to go at a moments notice. Of all his parables, I actually share a similar story with this. It’s not so much about end times, unless of course that’s how you understand weddings.
As a minister, I know that even the best-planned wedding doesn’t always go as planned. The weather can turn on a dime. The cater can go to the wrong venue. Or the groom can be rushed off to the hosptal.
I also know from a personal experience that the organist can play “Here comes the bride” seven times before the bride actually comes...leaving the poor groom to wait nervously at the altar.
I don’t know why the bridegroom made these ten women wait so long. But I have my theory. You see, weddings were different back then. The groom and his family would gather at their house. The bride and her family at theirs. When the groom was ready to seal the deal, the bridesmaids would escort him to the bride’s home, carrying lamps or torches to light the way.
The groom would then go in and the two would consummate the marriage (without any vows or rings being exchanged). After they were done, the bridesmaids would escort the couple to the feast at the grooms house, again carrying their lamps to light the way. So you see, the bridesmaids had only one job: to bring the light.
Since it was impossible to know when the bride and groom would be done with their nuptials, the attendants must come prepared to wait. And wait they did. But only five were properly prepared.
When it was there time to shine, the other five asked to borrow some oil, but there was none to spare. While they run out to get more, the newlyweds are ready to be escorted to the party. Once there, the doors are locked shut and no one else is able to get in.
If you’re familiar with parables you might have noticed this one seems to contradict another where Jesus said, “the first will be last and the last will be first.” But in that one, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven that he already ushered in. The one that is here still.
In this parable, Jesus is talking about a kingdom to come at a later date. Since we do not know either the day or the hour when that will happen, we have to be prepared to wait, whether we want to or not.
The good news is scripture is full of passages to encourage us through the waiting game. The author of Lamentations writes, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him” (Lam. 3:25). And in Isaiah we are told “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). The psalmist shouts, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently…” (Ps. 37:7). “Be strong and let your heart take courage as you wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
James tells us that those who patiently wait will see how “the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). And even Paul chimes in to remind us that we can wait, knowing “by the power at work within us,” God is always doing something; “accomplishing more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
We may not always like it, but “we may need to wait in order to become aware of what God is doing” in our life. (Richter)
Jesus said, “Keep awake.” Always be ready and prepared to bring your light into the dark world. Sometimes that means just sitting still trusting God is at work.
What I take from this parable is, one: We can’t sleep on the job. We have to always be ready to go. And two, we have to have enough “spiritual oil to keep us going, to recharge, to stay connected with God and God’s love.”
So, what are some of the ways that keep us connected to God?
Praying and meditating, cutting out the clutter and noise by sitting in silence to listen for God. Reading scripture every day is another way God speaks to our heart. Showing up for church and being in fellowship with others because sometimes God speaks to us through the person we least expect. Another way is to live out the gospel intentionally.
In loving and caring for others, we are meeting and loving Christ who fills our spiritual reserves.
Amy Richter writes, We know “our spiritual oil can run out if we aren’t mindful about refueling it. If you don’t have a conversation with your spouse that isn’t about paying the bills or scheduling car maintenance, your marriage is going to get pretty dry.”
Just the same, “If you don’t know some words of scripture so well that they become part of your bones, then someday you’re going to be sitting alone with nothing to draw on when your own words fail.” (Richter)
You can be the best prepared person and still find yourself in the dark. Yet God is still diligently at work. So, we need to have the faith to “keep awake.” And that’s what I think this parable is really about. Faith.
The emphasis of this story isn’t the newlyweds or the banquet. It’s on the oil, which I believe Jesus uses to describe our faith.
The wise come prepared with enough faith today to get them through the uncertainty. The foolish don’t. They want the faith of the wise, only to discover it can’t be shared. We all must have to have our own faith, our own light, to guide us through the darkness.
Since we don’t know what life will bring us next – be it joy or sorrow, ease or adversity – Jesus said, “Keep awake.” Cling to your faith and stay alert. If you’re asleep, or lack the light you need, there’s a good chance you will miss Christ coming.
As we enter the space we call Anamesa, we must take Jesus’ words to heart. We must “Keep awake” be present, be ready to see Christ in the flesh of the other.
In our wakeful state we bring the light of God’s glory to expose the darkness of the world. Jesus wants us to be present, mindful to all that is going on around us, because there is still work to be done.
God needs faithful and active disciples; one’s who will take up their cross and continue what Jesus began. The more we embrace and imitate his light, the more our well of faith increases.
With him, and through him, we will always have enough faith to get us to where God needs us to go.
It’s been said, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
Every moment we let pass is time ticking off the clock before the doors are shut.
Christ has already invited us to the wedding celebration. We don’t know when it will begin, but we better be ready when it’s time to go.
Let us pray:
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, Westminster John Knox) 2011.
Kelley, Shannon. Be Prepared. September 21, 2014 (accessed on Nov. 12, 2017)
Richter, Amy. Be Prepared to Wait. November 6, 2023 (accessed on Nov. 10, 2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”