Every time I read the scriptures I find myself more in awe of how each Gospel story is ordered and designed to explain its message in a sequential and logical order. To understand how this morning’s scripture fits into Matthew’s story we need to place this parable into perspective.
The Gospel of Matthew was written between 70 and 80 CE to the Jewish community, probably in Syria and the city of Antioch. Matthew has spent the first 24 chapters of the Gospel demonstrating how Jesus is the Messiah the fulfillment of the Jewish Prophesies. Continuing that theme Matthew uses these last six days of Jesus’ life to reaffirm Jesus’ position as the Messiah through a progression of proofs or qualifying events in two different ways. The first proofs of his position take place from his entry into Jerusalem and his last meal with the disciples. The second proofs take place between his arrest to his crucifixion.
The first qualifying event is Jesus’ recognition as the King. This is shown through Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the King of the people. Those who followed Jesus in Galilee for three years and accompanied him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover have lined the road leading to Jerusalem to call out Hosannas, cover the road with their cloaks and wave palm branches in the air celebrating the person they recognize as their King coming home into the capital.
The second proof is the recognition of Jesus’ integrity as he empties the temple of crooked vendors and money-changers, as opposed to the Chief Priests and Pharisees who are part of process of swindling the pilgrims. He turns the temple from a den of thieves back into the house of prayer and healing which God intended.
After emptying the Temple Jesus demonstrates his power over illness and disease as the people bring the sick and infirm to Jesus for healing. This is the third proof and is a demonstration of sheer power, which draws the wrath of the Temple Priests and Sadducees.
As the end of this first day Jesus goes back across the Kindron Valley to Bethany where he and the disciples are staying.
The second day Jesus continues his demonstration of his power over nature by cursing the fig tree and telling the disciples they too have the power of prayer to make the mountain leap into the ocean.
Entering the temple Jesus establishes fourth proof, his theological authority as he answers questions concerning John the Baptist, the payment of taxes, how marriage will work in the afterlife, and the greatest commandment. Jesus puts the Priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees in their place with parables such as the Two Sons, the Unfaithful Tenants, and the Wedding Feast.
According to Matthew the final element of Jesus’ Authority Proof is when, Jesus asks the question, “whose son will the Messiah be?” The Priests answer that it is the Son of David. Jesus in return asks them how this is possible. When David calls him Lord implying that even though the Messiah might come from the family of David, the Messiah is obviously someone of authority outside the family of David who sits at the right hand of God.
As the Temple Authorities fall back in confusion over how to deal with Jesus he enters into his Education Proof segment. Jesus tells the people to beware of the hypocrisy of the Priests: be sure to do what they tell you, not do what they do. Jesus again turns to the Priests and the Pharisees telling them of the woes they will encounter for not supporting the people in their need and desire to truly connect with God.
As the group leaves the Temple for Bethany that evening the disciples comment on the wonder and marvel of the temple structure, and Jesus explains the need for awareness and preparation.
Jesus tells the disciples about the coming destruction of the temple and altering of the Jewish way of life. Resting in Bethany that night Jesus continues by telling the disciples about the end of time, which he sees approaching, and the coming of the Messiah. Jesus tells them no one knows the day or the hour but they have to be ready for when the Messiah comes.
He continues his emphasis for preparation and readiness with our scriptures for this morning, the parable of the 10 bridesmaids waiting to go to the wedding celebration.
A little background here. A wedding is a time of great celebration, which might go on for several days. It starts in the evening when the bride groom leaves his home and goes to the home of the bride. The groom gathers his bride and her entourage, which includes bridesmaids, attendants and servants, and they hold a torchlight procession through the dark streets to the groom’s house where the celebration is held. Everyone carries a light, either a wick lamp or a torch, and anyone not carrying a light is assumed to be a gate-crasher or brigand and is forced out of the wedding party.
This morning’s parable focuses on the preparedness of the members of the wedding party. The bride and her 10 bridesmaids wait patiently for the groom to come and collect them for the procession to the groom’s home. And they wait. Finally they fall asleep. At midnight they are awoken and told that the groom is on his way.
Suddenly half of the bridesmaids discover they do not have enough oil to keep their lamps going through the procession. They ask the other five bridesmaids to share their oil with them. No, is the answer. There is not enough oil to keep all 10 lamps burning and so the five without enough oil must go and find more oil on their own.
The five leave and while they are searching for more lamp oil the groom arrives and calls the bridesmaids to the procession. Those with burning lights march through the town to the groom’s house where they enter, close the door and the festival begins.
Meanwhile the five bridesmaids finally arrive at the groom’s house but because they were not part of the procession they are not allowed in.
Jesus ends the parable with the warning “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
The interpretation of the parable is clear and simple. Jesus is going to come, but we do not know when. We need to be prepared which leads to the question, “How well prepared are we?” And while you think about that let me tell you a story.
I spoke with my Mom the other day and the weather is changing in northwest Iowa where my family lives out there on the farm. October was much milder than usual and the farmers are waiting very impatiently for that hard freeze which kills the crops and is the first step of moving into harvest season.
They had a first taste a couple of weeks ago when my brother called Mom. He was delivering some bridge forms to a site in central Nebraska and told her to get ready for a weather change. The Cherokee forecast that day was for high winds and snow starting in the afternoon, and he had called Mom to tell her he was driving through it. The weather front reached the farm later in the afternoon. They did not get much snow, although to the north and east some areas received nearly a foot. The snow amounted to a skiff, which melted the next day. It was a test of readiness.
But Mom was ready, with a fresh cut pile of dried wood and kindling on the back porch. The green house was filled a selection of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and chilies ripening. She had the propane tanks for the stove filled and there was oil for the lamps in case the electric line went down.
The first snow is always an exciting event, especially when we had livestock scattered across the farm. All they have now are the seven horses. Horses could care less about weather, as long as they have a place to get out of the wind.
I’m a firm believer that “life” is what happens when you are planning something else, but there are a few things you know are going to happen.
Our trip last spring was a perfect example. We knew we were going to be gone for nearly 7 weeks. This kind of trip to two European countries requires planning. Aside from booking the tours, transportation, hotels and setting up the credit cards and the bank accounts there is a lot more that needs to be done.
For example just packing for 50 days of travel takes a certain level of thought.
This is our travel kit. Each of us had a backpack and a carry on bag. Why so little? Well we knew our travel program. We knew that for 40 days the longest we were going to stay in one place was two nights. We knew that over the 50 days we were going to average walking 5 miles a day and up 12 flights of stairs a day. In the end, on our two tours there was one place we stayed which had an elevator, which meant carrying luggage upstairs. There were even a couple of places where we were able to unload our luggage from the bus outside the hotel where were staying. The longest was the one-mile trip pulling our luggage. We knew to pack light cause there were no porters.
Let’s see what is in here to take us through 50 days.
In the backpack I have:
- My man bag. Most museums and galleries will not let you take in a backpack. You might swing around and knock something over. They will let you bring in an over the shoulder bag.
- My iPad. Games and books and writing programs. Keep the electronics close.
- My iPhone. Again something to keep with you, and not in pockets that can be picked.
- My medications. I should not be separated from my carry-on, but you never know.
- My blood sugar test kit. Again, you never know for sure where the carry on might end up.
- My jacket. Always good to have handy.
- An umbrella because unusually half the days of the tour will have rain. And the tour goes on no matter what the weather
- Travel literature. Itineraries, bookings, tickets
In the carry on:
- This bag of hardware which includes:
- a clothes line, because we did some level of laundry every night
- a sink stopper, because some sinks do not have stoppers and we need to wash clothes
- extension cords, because plug-in are few and far between an never where you need them
- electric adapters for the plug-ins one set for Europe and one for the United Kingdom
- extra ziplock bags
- rubber bands
- Two sets of underclothes and two pair of socks, because we did laundry every night
- Two pair of pants, because we did laundry every night
- Two short sleeved shirts, because we did laundry every night
- Two long sleeved shirts, because we did laundry every night
- No Toiletries or shaving kits. Buy your razor, shaving cream, tooth paste etc there. If you need it they probably use the same thing overseas, and it is all about weight
- Wear the walking shoes and pack the sandals because you will both hot and cold weather
- Band-Aids. We did a lot of walking
Life takes a lot of preparation but we can find some relief in our scriptures from this morning.
When Christ comes into our life I can guarantee at some point we will stand before God and give an account of ourselves. There is nothing physical we need to worry about. We will not care if we have the electronics packed or if we forgot the clothesline.
The only thing we have to worry about is if we are ready to receive him.
This where it gets complicated because when we stand before God we want him to recognize us. We do not want to be like the girls standing at the closed hearing the groom saying, “I do not know you.”
Our lamps need to be burning for him all the time. To keep our lamps burning we need to be on fire for God. I don’t mean standing on the street corner preaching to the pedestrians, although some people can have that gift. Most of us do not have that gift in our makeup. All of us can work at being aware of God in our lives and at work in the world.
It takes constant vigilance on our part.
The Good News is if we have God in our hearts, we will want to share Him with others. We will look at the world around us and work to bring about the kind of world Jesus describes in the Gospels.
In today’s terms it means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the illiterate. In other words it means treating our neighbor as we would like to be treated. It means we have to be ready to offer a hand to lift someone up.
Sometimes in order to really understand the society around us we need to walk that mile in the other person’s shoes. We think we their know world but we really do not. We can become blind to the plight of others simply by thinking we know their circumstances, situations, environment and state of mind.
The Gospel of Matthew is based on the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Jewish religion. In the first three days during his last week Jesus proves:
- He is the long awaited King
- He will keeps the Father’s Temple Holy
- He has compassion for those in need and the power to help them
- He understands the Father’s will and speaks with God’s authority
- He knows the future and tells his followers how to prepare for it
The really Good News which comes to us today is that we do not have to worry. All we have to do is keep focused on God in our lives and world today. If we do that, God has already prepared a place for us.