22nd Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014
This parable is one of three in this last chapter of Jesus’ teaching before he is arrested and interrogated and brutally murdered by the state. In this one, the bridegroom is delayed and the girls who wait to celebrate are required to be prepared beyond what they could naturally have expected. In the next one, the story of the talents, the landowner goes away leaving his servants in charge of some valuable property. And in the last story, we have the day of judgment and the story of the sheep and the goats. Again the king is long in coming, and people are accountable for what they’ve done while they wait.
These parable aren’t nice. They don’t seem fair. They don’t seem to be about the God who has been sowing so extravagantly or waiting for the wheat to be distinguished from the weeds. They are hard for us to understand. After all the teaching about waiting for God to do the sorting out, and not being judgmental ourselves, suddenly we have these stories that seem to be about judgment specifically. At the end of John’s Gospel the Evangelist tells us that there are zillions of stories about Jesus, but these have been preached and are recorded for all the believers who are to come. But sometimes, it’s hard for us to understand the context in which these stories were originally told, and the context in which the Evangelists relate them to their own communities.
Matthew writes about 85 CE, most likely from Damascus. He writes to a community that has been through the destruction of the temple, their precious temple objects have been carried off as plunder, and many have been dragged off to slavery in Rome. They have been waiting for Jesus’ return, as he promised he would, and now most of the original church fathers and mothers are gone, and many of their disciples are getting old. How long do we have to wait for the pressures and the sufferings of this life to be over and the promises of life forever with God to become our reality? Is Jesus ever coming back? What do we do in the meantime?
This is not much of an issue for us. Most of us are not waiting for Jesus to return any time soon. We are used to the idea that humans need to carry on the best they can to be faithful to the charge to be God’s people. We are living in the Meantime. So what is it we wait for?
In the story we have before us, the girls who went out of their way to be prepared were the ones who were rewarded. I don’t think that means that the people who’ve been the best behaved or who carry sleeping bags and flashlights in their car in the winter will be automatically going to heaven. I think this story tells us that being faithful might look different than we expect, and that we should always be prepared to live out of the trust we have in God’s promises and to be Jesus in the meantime. What we do because God has intervened in our lives and in our world counts. It is our faithful response to the grace that has been lavished on us by being called God’s people. It is our faithful response to God’s intention to change the world, one heart, one situation at a time. It is our light, the light of Christ that shines in a world of shadow and fear. Whether Jesus comes today or never in our lifetime, we need to be awake to what our work is.
My Dad was diabetic for over 50 years. He was grateful for the insulin he injected every day, and was scrupulously disciplined about his eating and monitoring his blood sugar, so that he lived a long, normal life. But he prayed every day that this chronic failure of his body would be healed or that some cure would be found that would release him from the bondage to this discipline. He never let his prayer keep him from being so careful for his health. And he never let his care for his health keep him from praying for a cure every day.
What is it that the world is waiting for? What do you wait for? What is it that seems so delayed, so unimaginably distant that you are not sure that you will last until it finally comes? Maybe you are waiting for God to show up in your waiting.
And what will you do in the meantime, while you wait for the fulfillment of your hopes? “You are my helper and my deliverer, O Lord, do not tarry.” Amen.