Sermon: "Be Wise! Live in Preparedness!"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Joshua 24.1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78.1-7; ! Thessalonians 4.13-18; Matthew 25.1-13
On All Saints’ Day, we noted how the saints’ lives reflect the beatitudes. They are poor in spirit, they mourn our refusal to love God and neighbor, they are meek (or humble) as opposed to being full of pride, they hunger and thirst for righteousness, they are merciful, pure in heart, and they are peacemakers. Because of these attributes, they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 1-11; NRSV).
Today’s gospel reading begins as follows: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this” (Matthew 25.1; NRSV). “Then” indicates something which follows next in time, in succession, or consequently. Thus, let’s consider the context of the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. In the verses prior to our reading, Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Man, of being able to recognize the signs of the times, the necessity of watchfulness, and being faithful. Having covered these topics, Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” Jesus then told the parable of the ten bridesmaids, five wise and five foolish, who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
The parable reinforces imagery contained in the Sermon on the Mount. First, the lamps and light call to mind the passage in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world … No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16; NRSV). Since we are light, light in the sense that our acts of love light the way for others, we are to let our light shine, not for our glory, not to call attention to ourselves, but for God’s glory!
Second, as noted last week, the Sermon on the Mount ends by contrasting the wise man who built his house upon a rock with the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. As Jesus said, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7.24-27; NRSV)!
The theme of wisdom is highlighted even more strongly in an alternative reading for today – a passage from the book of Wisdom. Listen to a few of the phrases we find there:
Wisdom is easily discerned by those who love her, and she is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her … she goes about seeking those worthy of her … The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom (6.12-20; NRSV).
It is fitting that Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this?”; that he used five wise and five foolish bridesmaids to illustrate the need for watchfulness and faithfulness.
In the parable, we read how, unlike the wise bridesmaids, the foolish bridesmaids took no oil with them. As the bridegroom delayed in coming, they all fell asleep. At midnight, a call announced the coming of the bridegroom. The bridesmaids awoke and trimmed their lamps. But the foolish, realizing they did not have enough oil, asked the wise to share their oil, but the wise refused and suggested the foolish go to the dealer and purchase more oil. The fact the foolish went to purchase more oil at midnight shows just how foolish they were, for what dealer is going to be open at midnight? In the meantime, the bridegroom arrives with his bride and the wedding feast can begin; so “those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” When the foolish returned with their oil and lit their lamps, they cried out, “’Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’” Then Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25.1-13; NRSV).
The cry, “Lord, Lord, open to us” also reflects a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7.21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven” (NRSV).
Perhaps you are thinking – “But wait a minute! Aren’t we supposed to share? Would it have been so wrong for the wise bridesmaids to have given some of their oil to the foolish bridesmaids? After all, the Sermon on the Mount also calls us to share with those who have need: ‘Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you’ (Matthew 5.42; NRSV). And in Luke’s version of this sermon we read: ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise’ (3.11; NRSV).” Yes, we are called to share things which can be shared. Can the metaphorical oil be shared? What does the oil represent?
The oil gives light; the light being spoken of here is light which enlightens the world. Once again, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16; NRSV). True light is revealed through acts of love. Can I give another the oil which leads to such light? No, for it is not mine to give. I can share my light with others, and others may come to desire the oil which gives such light, but the oil must be secured from God through repentance and petition.
As previously noted, Jesus closes the parable by stating, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25.13; NRSV). We tend to become fixated on seeing if we can compute the day and the hour of the Lord’s return. History reflects hundreds of such attempts despite the fact that the scriptures tell us “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24.36; NRSV). I suppose it is only natural for us to make such calculations. In many instances, they reflect our hope in the imminent return of out Lord Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, such calculations do not reflect the wisdom of the righteous. The wisdom of the righteous, the wisdom of the five wise bridesmaids, is reflected in their preparedness.
What actions might we take to assure our preparedness? Jesus has told us what we must do -- live into the beatitudes, live out the Sermon on the Mount.
Let us be ever prepared by remaining in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Let us continue to live our lives in hope, love, and light.
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may [ask God to] purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect) [Bold added]