Saturday, November 8, 2008

26 Pentecost

Matthew 25. 1-13

What does it mean to be wise? No doubt we find ourselves, when we hear that word, with visions of sages and great teachers, of someone like Confucius or Buddha, serenely staring off into the world, all-knowing .

From a scriptural perspective, we find two kinds of wisdom. We find the wisdom of the world, which more often than not, is seen as base-less according to scripture. World-based wisdom is fleeting. By one definition, it is seen as “based on intuition and experience without revelation, and thus has severe limitations.” (The New Bible Dictionary). The other kind of wisdom we find in scriptures is, of course, true wisdom and that is the wisdom that comes from God. It is a wisdom instilled within us by the Spirit and, by the Spirit, shared with others.

True wisdom is a beautiful goal to work toward. Certainly, we all strive for wisdom in one sense or the other. We long to be smarter than we are sometimes. We all expect wisdom to descend upon us gradually over time, with the years, so that when we are finished with our journeys here on earth, we will have a nice stockpile of wisdom at the end.

The fact is, life doesn’t really work that way. Wisdom is often elusive. Just when we think we have it, when we think we have grasped it, it wiggles away from us and we are left empty of it. But wisdom is the ideal. It is the better place to be in our world.

And this morning, we find Jesus telling us this parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us. The parable we encounter this morning truly is a strange one to say the least. Reginald Fuller, the great Anglican theologian, found several questions unanswered in this parable. Fuller wondered: “Whose house was the groom entering—the bride’s or his own—and in whose house did the marriage feast take place? What made the groom arrive so late? Would a wedding feast have taken place after midnight? Were the bridesmaids bridesmaids, and if so why did they have to escort the groom?” And of course, if you notice, no mention is made of the bride at all. Ultimately Fuller conceded that we know too little about the marriage customs of the time to answer these questions proficiently.

Still, the parable is a strange one for most of us, but one that still makes us sit up and take notice of it. We find ourselves finding an analogy in it, as we attempt to do in all the parables. Without the analogy, these stories are essentially pointless to most of us. And so, we find that in the story the bridegroom is Jesus; his return, the second coming; the bridesmaids are the good and the bad among us Christian; and the wedding feast is that great feast that awaits all of us at the end of our journeys. This is probably the best way to proceed with this story and as such, it gives us plenty to take with us to chew on.

In examining the parable from this perspective, we find ourselves asking: who is it we want to be? Do we want to be the foolish bridesmaids, the ones who go about in the night with our ears closed and not thinking ahead to what awaits us? Or do we want to be like the wise bridesmaids who are ready—who are ready to heed the calling, and to be ready for the Bridegroom when he comes to us?

Certainly we can look at this parable from the perspective of the end times—of that time when Christ makes his return among us on the last day. But we can even—and should—apply it to the simple fact that Christ often appears to us in our lives now. Christ often appears to us in disguise, as those people we want least to meet.

Think for a moment of the person in your life at this moment who drives you crazy for whatever reasons. Think of that person who just triggers in you a feeling of agitation, frustration and avoidance. That is Christ in our midst. And that is how we should remember he comes to us sometimes. Christ appears to us sometimes as persistent as a phone call from someone we don’t want to talk to. Christ appears to us as that person who nags us, who challenges us, who jolts us out of our complacency and pushes us just outside the limitations we have set for ourselves.
I’ll be honest with you: In my life, this happens more often than I care to admit. Just a few weeks ago, I had one of those moments in my life. I was coasting beautifully in my life. The future looked bright. I was as content as I have been a long time. That morning I woke up and felt joyful and hopeful about the day ahead of me. And then—it all came crashing to a halt. I found myself faced with a situation I naively thought of as nothing but being blown out of proportion and I found myself in the midst of a personal emotional maelstrom. The person through whom this situation came became a dark shadow in my life. As I struggled to gain some balance in my life, I found myself raging inwardly toward this person. I felt betrayed, hurt and uncomfortable. And only later did I finally confront myself and ask: what if this person was Christ in our midst? It was then that I caught myself again and reminded myself that this person WAS Christ in our midst.

When Christ comes to us, he will often appear to us as someone just like that person we least want to deal with in our lives. He will appear to us as someone who opens our eyes from complacency and forces us to see the present for all its stark, ugly reality—a reality we did not necessarily see before as ugly. When Christ appears to us, he will challenge us. He will nudge us outside the boundaries we have set for ourselves. He will shake us to our very core and make us tremble there. And when he appears to us, will we be ready? Or will we find ourselves annoyed and put out by that visitation? Will we find ourselves devastated and hurt by it? Will we simply turn into ourselves in some defensive mode and block him from us.

The message we can take away from today’s parable is this: are we ready when Christ comes to us in the guise of those we least like? The parable today reminds us that we have a choice: we can either be wise or we can be foolish. Wise here means more than just being smart. It means more than just having read the right books and went to the right schools. It means being prepared. It means being savvy enough to know that life is going to throw us a few surprises and in those moments we need to be ready.

To be truly wise means to know full well that the things this life throws at us doesn’t defeat us. To be wise means that we go through this life prepared. We go through this life knowing and expecting that this life is going to throw some ugly things our ways. We can either stop and curl up into ourselves and refuse to go forward. Or we can be prepared and when life throws us curve balls, we can catch them, we can shake it off and we can go on with life a little more wise, a little more prepared, a little different than we were before that curve ball.

As we near the Advent in a few weeks, we can already hear that familiar rallying cry: be prepared. We need to be like the wise bridesmaids. We need to prepared when Christ, the Bridegroom comes to us. Like them, we need to be wise and savvy. We can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us. We must not be the foolish bridesmaids who wander about aimlessly, unprepared for what life throws at them. We must instead be like the wise bridesmaids, who are alert and prepared, who are ready to heed the call of the bridegroom—Christ—when he calls upon us in the dark night of our lives. We must be wise and ready in case he shows up at times other than we expect.

So be wise. Be prepared. Bring with you the oil to fill your lamps through the long night. And if you do, you will be prepared when the Bridegroom calls you by name and invites you in to the banquet.

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