Meditation on Matthew 25:1-13
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
Nov. 8, 2020
I am missing my flock today. I am missing you! I am sorry that we weren’t able to worship together in person. Our leadership made the decision to close on Friday, after we learned that Coshocton County has joined 55 other Ohio counties that are now at level 3 (Red), meaning “very high exposure and spread” of the virus.
Once again, our plans have been changed—but all for the safety and wellbeing of our congregation and community.
This was the weekend of my niece, Melissa’s wedding in Austin, Texas. Like other couples planning weddings in 2020, she and her fiancé, Wade, were faced with the choice of postponing the ceremony for another year, when travel and large gatherings would be less risky, or go ahead with the wedding with only a few close family and friends in attendance.
They decided on a simple but sweet outdoor service in the backyard of Wade’s parents’ home, without a big reception.
And you know what? I think Melissa didn’t mind at all that the wedding was small. All that mattered to her was being married to Wade.
We rejoice and give thanks for God’s blessings, amidst the unexpected.
Wade and Melissa’s wedding was nothing like the wedding in today’s gospel lesson, the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids or Virgins, if you have an older Bible translation. In Bible times, weddings were communal celebrations that went on and on for 5 to 7 days! Most scholars see this parable’s dark side, as a warning of God’s judgment on the unfaithful, the unprepared. But I see more than that in Matthew 25. I hear the words of our Gracious Savior and Redeemer, who will arrive joyfully at the end of the age, extend a warm welcome to all the guests who have patiently waited for his coming and are prepared for his arrival.
I see hope and promise with this talk about oil for the lamps, oil that burns brightly for those seeking and waiting for the bridegroom. And oil that the Lord offers so that all may join him at the great wedding banquet—when they come from east and west, north and south, to sit at the table in the Kingdom of God.
Oil is mentioned in the Bible more than 200 times! It’s for lighting lamps, for food, and medicinal purposes. Associated with healing or anointing of priests or the articles in the tabernacle– setting apart as holy–oil is often a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Holy, anointing oil is connected in the Psalms with the blessing of unity for God’s people, a gift of the Spirit. In Psalm 133, we read: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.”
In today’s lesson, “the scene focuses on preparations for a wedding banquet that is to take place at the home of the groom,” writes Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. “A great crowd of family and friends fills the house and pours out into the street in front of the dwelling. As the crowd is gathering, the groom and several close friends are making their way to the home of the bride, which is assumed to be across town or in a nearby village. From there the groom collects his bride and escorts her back to his family home, where the crowd awaits and the marriage feast will be held….When she was ready, she would be placed on the back of a riding animal and the groom, with his friends, would form a disorganized, exuberant parade. This happy group would take the longest possible route back to the groom’s house deliberately, wandering through as many streets of the village as possible so that most of the populace could see and cheer them as they passed.
…At the groom’s house some of the crowd would therefore wait in the street as they anticipate the arrival of the meandering wedding party. The parable takes place at night, and among the guests are ten young women. Each of them has a lamp, … Women, young and old, always carry lamps. Their reputation, and in some cases their personal safety, depends on the lamps.”
But there are differences among the women. Half have brought extra olive oil in small flasks. The others have not. The parade takes longer than expected. The women grow drowsy and fall asleep. Their lamps go out!
Finally, a cry rings out, “Behold, the bridegroom. Come out to meet him.”
When the five who failed to bring extra oil ask the other women to share their oil with them so they may relight their lamps, they refuse. The groom and his new bride arrive and the crowd sweeps into the house and the door is shut, for after all, it is the middle of the night.
Like many of Jesus’ parables, the story ends abruptly, leaving us wondering what happened next.
The important question is, what does this parable teach us for our lives today?
Yes, it is a challenge and a warning for the second coming at an unknown time. Some won’t be ready when the bridegroom reappears. The kingdom has a door that can and does close and Christ’s arrival may take us by surprise; humanity is by nature impatient; we’ve been waiting for our Messiah’s return for a long time.
Beyond the warning and challenge, please hear the hope and promise—because of the oil. We have the oil that is needed—more than enough—to light the lamp that leads us into Christ’s presence now and forevermore! The oil is both the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith! The Holy Spirit prepares our hearts, trusting in the Lord of yesterday, today, and forever. Faith doesn’t come from our intellect or willpower; it comes from, “Jesus, the author and originator of our faith,” as Hebrews 12:2 tells us.
But there’s one troubling image that stays with me. I keep remembering the bridesmaids who won’t share their oil with those who run out and beg for more. They think they don’t have enough to share! The bridesmaids who have enough coldly leave those without on the other side of the door.
The Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, ultimately, is about choices—God’s and ours. And, once again, the theme of time—divine and human. What are we doing with our time NOW, while we are waiting on the Lord’s return for His Church? Are we living in fear, complaining about our situations, the disappointments, changes, so many things out of our control? Are we stuck in our grief for our losses and not able to move forward with the good things that God has planned? I pray we are not like the bridesmaids in the parable, concerned only with their own well-being.
My friend, Linda, has asked me on more than one occasion what people without faith do in dark times like these? How can they manage to continue on?
I am moved to compassion for those who don’t know Jesus, who live as people without hope. At the same time, I am convicted of my own reluctance to share my faith with my neighbors. Do you ever do this? Come up with excuses why you don’t need to talk about your faith? Maybe you don’t want to bother them. They look busy. Or maybe you’re the one who’s too busy. Or worried they might reject you.
The reality is, our mission field stretches wide, all around us. The harvest is plentiful, as Jesus says, and the laborers are few. There are people near you at this very moment who need to know how your life is different because of knowing Jesus, being found in Him, filled with the oil of the Spirit that draws us into his presence, now and forever.
Finally, this passage stirs me to gratitude. God is the One who has chosen us for love and not the other way around. Our salvation doesn’t depend on us! May that bring you comfort and peace in your most anxious times.
“He chose us in Him,” says Ephesians 1:4-5, “before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
Listen to more good news in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”
Friends, you have the Holy Spirit. You have the gift of faith to share with the world!
Be bold. Tell YOUR story. Tell what the Lord has done for you! Allow the Holy Spirit to speak through you.
Don’t let your oil run dry or your light go out. Stay connected to the Word of God, a lamp to your feet, a light to your path.
You don’t have to live as people without hope. Don’t be intimidated by the darkness in this world; it has no power over us. Love has already won the battle for our souls!
Hold onto your faith and to the people of God, who will hold you accountable and, like Paul says in Eph. 4:1, “urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
Be ready! Don’t neglect to see and give thanks for the simple but sweet blessings, amidst the unexpected and the constant changing of plans. For we serve a loving and gracious God, who chose us in Him before the foundation of the world! Isn’t that wonderful news?
Blessed are those whose lamps are faithfully kept burning as they watch and wait for his appearance. Someday soon, we’ll hear that joyful shout.
“Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
Let us pray.
Holy one, we thank you for the promise of the return of the Bridegroom for His Bride, the Church. Teach us how to live as people of hope, seeing your blessings amidst the unexpected, the constant changing of plans. Heal us, Lord, of all our hurts from these months of pandemic—emotional, physical, spiritual. Strengthen us to recover from our many disappointments and losses. We ask for your help to carry the burden of our grief and stir us to forgive ourselves and others. Fill us to overflowing with the oil of your Spirit and the Light of Christ to illumine our way on the righteous path. Help us to be ready for our Messiah, to encounter our Savior and Lord face to face, and to have ears to hear the joyful shout, “Behold! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” In His name we pray. Amen.