The holy gospel according to Matthew.
Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten brides-maids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m curious. Is there anyone here who enjoys waiting? Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s pretty rare for someone to enjoy waiting.
There are different kinds of waiting and I think they can determine how much we dislike waiting.
First, there’s the kind of waiting when we’re in the queue at the DMV or the grocery store. The wait isn’t really for a long time but we get so impatient just standing there. “Is this line ever going to move?” we find ourselves asking. It may only be for a couple of minutes, but it can feel like millennia.
Second, there’s an expectant kid of waiting. This may start out as joyful but can segue into frustration. An example. When Paula was pregnant with our first child, Maryann, the doctor told her that she would probably give birth two weeks ahead of her due date. We were excited. Paula was ready to be done with pregnancy and was looking forward to ending early. We were ready. Let’s do this.
Two weeks early came and went. I start getting jumpy at work when the phone rings, but we can deal with it. One week early comes and goes. Paula’s getting more uncomfortable. The due date comes and goes. The excitement is turning into frustration. Paula’s getting tired of people asking her about it. One week after comes and goes. Then Mother’s Day comes and goes! That was bad. Paula fully expected to be a mom by mother’s day and it didn’t happen. I’m so jumpy and trying to be supportive that it’s ridiculous. Finally, about two weeks after the due date Maryann decides it’s time to come into the world.
At the time, those four weeks of waiting for a birth seemed like forever. Looking back, they’re just a blip in our memories, though I wouldn’t wish that blip on any young couple!
Thirdly, there’s a fearful kind of waiting where one is waiting on some news that could be bad or an event that could go wrong. Time for another story.
When our daughter, Sarah, was almost six, she started having trouble keeping food down and we ended up taking her to Children’s Hospital multiple times to get re-hydrated with an IV. Giving her an IV is a story all in itself! Our pediatrician decided we should get some tests done. So we had to wait a few days or a week for the results to come back. Not really fearful waiting, but anxious waiting for sure. The initial tests came back that she had some malformed white blood cells. We asked what that meant and they told us that it meant she probably had one of two things. She probably either had leukemia or mononucleosis. I had had a cousin die from leukemia and our anxious waiting, mine anyway, turned to fearful waiting. We can remember asking people to pray that she had mono of all things! It did turn out to be mono and everything was easily and thankfully dealt with.
A fourth kind of waiting is excited waiting. This is the kind of waiting where something is going to happen and every day we get more excited for it to happen. A good example would be Christmas. I can remember when I was a kid, I would pour over the Sears and JCPenney’s catalogues marking things I wanted. Then Christmas morning waiting at the foot of the stairs for permission to go out and into the living room with so much anticipation. Now I look around my neighborhood and many people already have up decorations even though Thanksgiving is still a couple weeks away!
All of today’s texts have something to do with waiting for God to come. Amos is warning the people that that day will not be pleasant for them. The Psalmist is asking God to make haste and deliver him. The Apostle Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians who had thought that Christ’s return was imminent. And Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to stay ready for no one knows the day nor hour.
As Christians, we expect that Jesus will some day return, or at least we should. The questions are: how do we wait; what kind of waiting are we doing; what kind of waiting should we be doing?
In the days of Amos, the people were under the law of Moses. There were laws governing much of how there were supposed to act and how they were to worship. The people, especially the religious people, tried very hard to do the acts of worship that were prescribed by the law. Maybe the even tried too hard.
Amos tells them that God hates and despises their attempts at worship, whether it be their assemblies, festival, or even the prescribed sacrifices. He is not going to look on them or even listen to them. They take pride in getting all the details of worship right but they are ignoring what’s really important, justice and righteousness.
Other prophets echoed Amos’ thoughts. Micah says, “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The people of Amos’ time were waiting for the day of the Lord, but because they were focused on the exterior showy bits of worship and not on what God really desired of them, justice, kindness, humbleness and the like, the day of the Lord was not going to go well for them.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were pretty much in the same boat. They were insistent on the people following their laws, many of which weren’t even in the Mosaic law. At the same time the kept the poor and downtrodden down. They were so focused on their efforts to keep the purity and dietary laws that they couldn’t even recognize God walking around in their midst.
In Psalm 70 the psalmist is waiting for God to come, but it is an expectant kind of waiting. He knows he is poor and needy and that God can deliver him from his enemies. He trusts that God is coming, he only asks that God would come soon.
Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians around the year 51CE. The early Christians believed that Jesus’ return was eminent. Now some twenty years later, what were they to think? Twenty years is a long time to wait for something is supposed to be right around the corner, time-wise. They had started waiting with great hope and expectation but now their waiting was turning into fear of the unknown. What was going to happen to those believers who had died in the meantime. Should they continue to hope? Paul reassures them God is going to come and that on that day, all believers, whether dead or still alive, will be caught up into heaven.
Finally, we get to Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids. Of the readings today, this is perhaps the hardest to wrap our minds around. I know it is for me. Matthew has Jesus telling this parable late in his ministry and he’s telling it to the disciples, not the general public or religious leaders. It’s in the middle of a whole line of parables and prophecies concerning the end times and how they should behave when he is gone. How much of this they understood is up for debate.
A little bit about marriages in Bible times and I’m quoting off of a website.
Marriages in Bible times were not made for love, per se, but for the mutual benefit of both families involved. Jewish marriages were usually arranged by the fathers of the bride and groom and would begin with a betrothal, or engagement. The bride’s and groom’s feelings on the marriage were not usually taken into consideration, and it was possible that the bride and groom had never met before the betrothal. Betrothals could even be agreed upon when the couple was very young. In these cases, the engagement would stand until the bride and groom were old enough to marry.
It was a common custom for the bride to join the groom’s father’s household, rather than the groom and the bride establishing their own household. So, if the bride and groom were of a marriageable age, the groom would return to his father’s house after the betrothal to prepare a bridal chamber. This process traditionally took a year or more (the length of time being dictated by the groom’s father). When the place was complete, the groom would return and fetch his bride. The bride would not know the day or hour of her husband-to-be’s return, so the groom’s arrival was usually announced with a trumpet call and a shout so the bride had some forewarning.
The ceremony was attended by a select few (most likely family). After the ceremony, the couple would attend a wedding feast in their honor. It was customary for a wedding feast to include a much larger crowd than the ceremony itself, and it was a great celebration provided by the groom’s family.
So, in the parable there are ten bridesmaids waiting on the bridegroom. Apparently the trumpet call had already happened but then the groom got delayed. It got late and all the bridesmaids fell asleep. On awakening at the sound of a shout, the bridesmaids trim their lamps and get ready to go but five of them didn’t have enough oil because they weren’t prepared. As a result, they got left out of the wedding feast. It ends with the warning, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The foolish bridesmaids getting locked out because they misjudged how much oil they would need and were unprepared to wait so long seems a little harsh to me, partly because I’m often unprepared.
I think that the point isn’t so much the judgment for not being prepared but an admonition to always be prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.
The Thessalonians had been waiting for twenty-something years. Christendom as a whole has been waiting about 2,000 years. I’ve been waiting for almost 64 years. Some of you have been waiting for more or fewer years than I. The point is that we have been waiting for a long time.
When we wait for something for a long time we tend to push it out of our minds. We stop expecting it. The Thessalonians expected it at any time and got worried when it was delayed. Not to compare, but I don’t think I’ve ever fretted over the delay.
When we expect something at any minute, we make sure we’re prepared for it and may make all kinds of plans, especially if it’s something special. When we get tired of waiting, we stop planning for it. We may think about it occasionally, but we usually don’t take much action. I think that this is what the point of the parable is. That even if it’s been a long time we need to continue to plan for the day of Lord and take action to prepare for it.
That leaves me with the question of how do I prepare for it? This is where we can harken back to Amos and follow his advice. “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” We can simply live out our faith in action. It’s going into our world and feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and giving drink to the thirsty. It’s thinking about and taking the words of the Apostle’s Creed and Lord’s prayer to heart. It’s recognizing that while we still await the day of the Lord, Christ has already come in the presence of the bread and wine in communion. It’s looking into the eyes of your neighbor and seeing Christ’s presence in them. It’s our neighbor looking into our eyes and seeing God’s presence in us.
How are waiting for the Lord’s day? With pride and arrogance putting your faith in your actions like the people of Amos’ time? With some fear of the unexpected like the Thessalonians? Are you tired of waiting and falling asleep like the ten bridesmaids? If you are on of these, instead, let us wait expectantly like a kid awaiting Christmas, eagerly making grand plans and then acting on them. Amen, come Lord Jesus.