Summary: Jesus never seems to come as fast as we want him to. We must be prepared to wait
Matthew 25:1-13 “Kingdom Preparedness”
“Get ready, we’re going to leave soon!” I suspect more than a few young people heard those words this morning as the family prepared to climb into the car and drive to morning worship. We hear the call to “Get Ready” on school days, work days, visits from relatives and vacations. It might seem as if we are always trying to get ready for some future event.
Matthew calls the early Christians to “Get Ready” for Jesus’ immanent return. His issues this call several times. One time is in the Parable of the Foolish Bridesmaids. Though Jesus obviously has been delayed in his coming, there are lessons from this parable that we can apply to our own walks of faith.
The parable is about foolish “virgins”—translated in the NRSV as “bridesmaids.” The readers are to imagine very young adults who are not mature in their thinking and are not street smart. A modern day stereotype might be a ditzy blond. The actions of these young girls are laughable. They bring lamps, but no oil. Instead of searching for a place to purchase oil, they sleep. When the bridegroom comes they rush off to find some oil and miss his arrival. Jesus’ original audience for this story would have been giggling and laughing at their antics.
When we think about Jesus’ return—which I admit is not very often—we often call to mind the prophets who predict Jesus’ immanent return. It wasn’t very long ago that billboards appeared declaring that Jesus would return on May 21st. When Jesus didn’t return they recalculated and said that Jesus would return in October. Hal Lindsey, author of the bestselling book, The Late, Great Planet Earth believed that Jesus would return in 1988. Those of us who went through Y2K remember that Jesus’ return was predicted to coincide with the meltdown of all the computers. We look at these people and we laugh.
Perhaps we are laughing at the wrong people, though. These prophets and their followers are at least taking Jesus’ promise to return seriously. Those who act foolishly are those who dedicate their lives to the accumulation of wealth while ignoring or denying Christ’s return. Those who run around from one self-help guru to another in hopes that they may reach their true potential are comical. If we can’t laugh at those who are so wrapped up in themselves that they can see (or don’t want to see) the needs of others, we should pity them.
The parable of the virgins isn’t necessarily arbitrary, but it is challenging. It calls Jesus’ disciples to a state of constant alertness, of perpetual openness to God’s dramatic future. We all know a few people, just a few, who tend to live that way. I think especially of some cancer survivors I know -- and of some friends who live with grim diagnoses. But here we’re not talking about a generic carpe diem approach to life. We’re talking about living with a keen awareness of Jesus’ return, an alertness tempered by preparation for the long haul.
Certainly Jesus is coming again to establish his kingdom completely. Yet, Jesus comes into our lives in many ways and at many times. Jesus comes in answer prayers, in a peace that passes understanding, in the ability to forgive unconditionally and in a love that overflows.
Let’s admit that waiting for Jesus’ imminent return is difficult for most of us to entertain. But let’s also recognize that opportunities for waiting on Jesus’ presence are all around us. Each time we work for justice (as Amos invites in the first reading), we testify to the presence of Jesus. Each time we bear each other’s burdens, we testify to Jesus’ presence. Each time we advocate for the poor, or reach out to the friendless, or work to make this world God loves a better place, we testify to the presence of the Risen Christ.
We can admit that even this kind of waiting and preparation can be hard to sustain. That we can grow weary in our work, frustrated by the lack of outcomes we see, or distracted by the thousand and one other obligations that fill each of our lives. In short, let’s admit that on any given day, each of us may discover we are a foolish bridesmaid. Given this reality, let’s reclaim church as a place where we can find help and support in our waiting – all kinds of waiting! – and support as we try to live our Christian life. I find it striking that Paul closes this part of his letter to those first-century Thessalonians that found their own waiting nearly intolerable with these words, “Therefore, encourage one another….”
The Book of Revelation tells the story of the apocalypse. At the end of that book, the final words are, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus. May these be our words each day as we live out our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ who anticipate his coming presence.