Some Thoughts about the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

Find this week's lectionary readings here.

I remember the first time I really paid attention to this parable from Matthew. I was sitting in the basement of my EfM mentor’s home, a great meeting room with comfy couches and a big whiteboard upon which we wrote all kinds of things, complete with arrows and circles and badly drawn stick figures, and I was stuck on defending sharing as a good thing. I couldn’t get past it. Was Jesus really telling us that in the Kingdom of God, people don’t share? Come on. That doesn’t sound right, I said. Surely we ought to share. My mom taught me to share. We learned about it in kindergarten! 

One of the folks in my group said, oh, this parable isn’t about sharing, it is about how you have to work out your own salvation. You have to do that yourself, without help from others.

Yeah, someone else chimed in. The oil is really a representative of good works, and we can only DO those, we can’t give them to others.

Huh, I thought. I guess you do have to work out your own salvation. With fear and trembling, as I think St. Paul said. I guess it’s true that nobody can do that for you. But the whole thing still bothered me. Are we not a community that bears one another’s burdens? Aren’t we about the strong helping the weak and all that? Are we not in this together? Can’t people do that WITH you? What about SHARING?!?

So I was still pretty much stuck where I started.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that we have this fantastic collection of writings we call the Bible, our Scripture, and we are called to read it every day. Through the lectionary’s daily readings in morning and evening prayer and the weekly readings on Sundays, or even just on our own, we get to read the Scriptures again and again. We get to consider and reconsider, for a lifetime. We get to put the things we read in the Bible beside the way we live out our lives and what we see in the world around us. When I was young, I thought you just learned once what the Bible said and then you were done with it. But I turned out to be wrong about that.

These days, I see this parable in a different light, if you will. I have shifted my focus to the bridesmaids who light their lamps to go out and meet the bridegroom. Somehow, and the parable doesn’t really make this clear, they have figured out how to both prepare and wait during the time of uncertainty so that they can, at the right time, go out and light the way for his entrance to the party.

During this point in the church year, we begin to hear more through our readings about Jesus’ eventual return, the time when Jesus will come back and make all things right in this broken world of ours, and we are encouraged to think about waiting and preparing ourselves. I find it more profitable, however, to pair that with the notion that Jesus appears all the time and yet we often cannot see that appearance. Perhaps because we are blind, but more likely because we are not looking. We are not open to it. Our eyes are drawn instead like magnets to disaster and brokenness, to what is wrong in our world, not to mention the sensational and supposedly entertaining (watch a man be swallowed by a snake on TV!) while the quiet work of healing goes on in the background beyond the blare and the glare.

But God’s work is always going on, all around us, at home, at church, at school, at work, in the streets, at the Farmer’s Market, at the bank… you name it. God’s work is going on in our world - in our lives! - right now. 

During the last week, a number of men, women, and children, some of them still in cribs, some of the women pregnant, have arrived here at St. Stephen’s by bus every afternoon around 5 o’clock so that they could eat dinner in our fellowship hall and sleep in our basement because they do not have anywhere else to sleep. And every morning at 6 a.m., after they’ve eaten a good breakfast in the fellowship hall, they get back on the bus with bagged lunches in hand and head out for the day, most to jobs that don’t pay enough for them to be able to afford housing. We are one of the host congregations for CARITAS, the largest provider of homeless services in Richmond.

Every day this week, I have seen evidence of Jesus’ presence with and among us. Last Sunday night, someone who had attended the Celtic service asked me if it would be ok to sit and eat with one of the CARITAS families at our Community Supper. Every day this week, I’ve seen all sorts of folks, including moms and dads and kids, in our kitchen preparing meals - supper, breakfast, bagged lunches - for our CARITAS guests. I understand some folks have donated entire meals on some nights. I’ve seen staff members still here after 8 p.m., making sure there were enough lunches (and prepared to make more) for the next day.

Also this week, a couple of folks I know have put a lot of effort into creating a network of practical support for someone undergoing complicated medical treatment. And on the larger stage, I saw that a teen in Washington state took to Twitter to express his love and forgiveness for his cousin who shot him at school.

These things I have seen because they are illuminated by the lamps that light the way for Christ. These acts of healing and neighborly love are the light of the world, which Jesus says we all are and are to be.

What I have a seen this week, and what I can see every week if I will have the eyes to see, is justice and righteousness rolling down like the waters and flowing through our community and the world. Justice is not just about righting wrongs, but also about bringing wholeness to those who are suffering. In a similar vein, righteousness (not moralistic self-righteousness!) is about being in right relationship with God and our neighbor through acts born out of both respect and compassion. 

And so, in a way, we are back to sharing. Maybe not sharing oil, whatever that means, but certainly sharing the light. Bearing the light with which we light the way for and accompany the Christ who redeems not only us but this whole broken world. Sharing the love of Christ. Bearing the light of Christ. Carrying the lamps ourselves, being the light of the world.


steve said…
Good words, heart, spirit, thx Penny