In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus is pretty clear on where he stands on this topic; ending his parable with a stark warning to “keep awake.” I don’t think he’s suggesting we stay up all night pumped full of Red Bull until our heart gives out. Instead he’s stating, rather matter of fact, to be ready for the future by being your best now.
Like all of his parables, Jesus uses a wedding illustration to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like. If you’ve ever had to plan a wedding you’d know it’s one of the most emotionally loaded events, outside a funeral. I can tell you by experience that even the best-planned weddings don’t always turn out as expected. While wedding customs in Jesus’ day were different, they apparently had the same potential for mishaps.
The way the wedding worked back then was rather simple, so to speak. The groom, his family and their guests would gather in their house. The bride, her family and guests would gather at theirs. At some point, the groom’s party would make their way to the bride’s house, as the guests held lit torches along the path to greet them.
The bride and groom would then go inside the house and consummate the marriage, without vows or rings being exchanged. After that moment of joy, the big party would begin. Unlike most wedding stories, this one does not focus on the bride and groom. Instead it’s on ten specific bridesmaids who were invited to the party. Five of these women are wise. Five are foolish.
While there was not a definite start time, you knew it was going to happen on a given day or the next at the latest. So, like the wise bridesmaids, you came prepared for the wait; always ready to join the celebration at any time.
So what does a wedding teach us about the kingdom of heaven?
Is Jesus saying only the wise will get in? Perhaps. It seems not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will get in.
But moreover, I think what Jesus is telling us is the kingdom of heaven is not just coming at some futuristic date, but that the kingdom is happening right now… as we wait! This not only adds to the drama of the parable, but to the immediacy of living now! How we live today in the present kingdom prepares us for the one to come.
The question comes back to: Are you being proactive or still procrastinating?
You might have notice that the only difference between the foolish and the wise bridesmaids is the wise are proactive and come prepared with extra oil to last them through the darkness. The foolish have to go find an Oil Lamps ‘R’ Us store that’s open in the middle of the night!
By emphasizing the lamp oil in this story, I believe Jesus is equating it to faith.
The way I see it, the wise come prepared with enough faith today to get them through the wait and uncertainty of tomorrow. The foolish don’t. They want the faith of the wise, only to discover it can’t be shared. I can share common fellowship with you, but my personal faith is uniquely mine. Just the same, yours is yours. We all must have our own spiritual reserves that get us through the dark and unknown.
Why is this important for us today? In the midst of life’s joys and pain, ease and adversity, intrigue and boredom, it’s our faith that keeps our inner, personal light shining. It gives us what we need to live intentionally in community, and steadfast in word and prayer.
Our faith provides a strong foundation for having mercy, offering forgiveness, walking humbly, spreading justice and sharing peace to the world.
And the way we build that faith up is by being proactive and putting it to use. A shallow well of faith might get you to church one day a week, but is it enough to get you through the other six?
Jesus says, keep awake. Never give up on your faith. You don’t have to be perfect or wise, you just have to push onward and upward. God knows you’re going to fail from time to time. That’s okay, because it shows God that you are trying.
God simply wants you to participate in the kingdom of heaven now, and to remain being proactive in your pursuit of doing God’s will. I think even God would agree that doing something that deepens your faith and failing at it is far better than doing nothing at all.
Faith takes work. And there’s no better time than now to begin.
If the 300+ mass shootings that have taken place this past year have taught us anything, it’s that there is no time like the present to prepare for the future.
I’m not talking about stockpiling ammo, or making an exit plan (which is good), or being leery of your neighbors. Instead, we are called to reach out to others, and share with them the light of love as a way to greet them and celebrate with them. I believe such random acts of kindness could be the one thing that changes a person’s mind from doing a violent act.
Now is the time for active discipleship. Now is the time to take up our cross and follow Jesus, to pursue him and imitate him. Every moment we let pass is time ticking off the clock before the doors are shut.
It’s been said, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” We presume that we have all the time in the world to tend to rebuild a broken relationship, replace a bad habit with a good one, achieve a goal, or learning a new skill. But far too often we procrastinate, push it off until tomorrow or the next day.
Christ has invited us to the wedding celebration. But are we ready to go?
It’s never too late to deepen a relationship with God or follow Christ more faithfully. The kingdom of heaven summons us to live a new life, committed and active, as we wait in hope, building our reserves of faith that prepare us to weather the unexpected timing of God. By this we can let our light shine brightly for others to see the way.
I will leave you with this one last little thought. It is wise to fill your lamp with good things, but those things are for us to use now, on this side of eternity.
Thanks be to our Lord, there is already more than enough light at the banquet that awaits us all. So shine today, and every day as you light the way of truth and righteousness towards the greatest celebration of divine love. Amen.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 4. (Louisville, Westminster John Knox) 2011. pp. 284-289.
Kelley, Shannon. Be Prepared. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/lessons/2014/09/21/be-prepared/
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.”