The kingdom of heaven is like what, exactly? Like if you aren’t ready no one is going to help you to be, so you’d better have it together? Really? Life is like that sometimes, but that is not what heaven is supposed to be like. Or at least that’s not what I want heaven to look like.
But the gospel of Matthew is interested in final judgement. This is the second of four parables in Matthew that all have some variation on the theme of being ready, or awake or prepared; and in fact before these parables begin in chapter 24 Jesus says: Keep awake for you do not know on what day The Lord is coming.
Keep awake. But in this parable, none of them keeps awake. The bridegroom is later then expected and the bridesmaids all fall asleep. We are told that half of them are foolish and half are wise but in this parable, the only difference is half have enough oil and half do not and those who don’t – they get locked out of the banquet.
This parable is really uncomfortable. Seriously. And I have been really trying to figure out how to make it sounds better – nicer – re-jig the meaning so that it is more welcoming. But here’s the thing, we don’t get to make it say what we wish it said – we have to wrestle with what it does say. And what it does say is that not everyone is ready.
This feels a little too close. I want heaven to be less like real life, I think. I want a version of heaven in which we all work together and help one another to ensure that all are welcome, if they want it.
I do not want a version in which we look at each other and say, I may have some of what you need, but I’m not sharing incase I run out – go get your own. But that is what the so-called wise bridesmaids say.
And yet, I do say that in some way every day. I talk about the need for us to share what we have, I preach about the kingdom of heaven that I want to being about – but at what cost to me, I wonder. What if I am uncomfortable with the so called, ‘wise bridemaids ‘
How often are we willing to risk ourselves for other – those we deem foolish or just those who need more? And how does this parable sit with the other teachings of Jesus, in which he says that the poor shall inherit the kingdom of God – that the last shall be first and the first shall be last?
Maybe this isn’t about material things – food, shelter or water.
What if we allowed the oil to be a metaphor? Now, I don’t want to go too far with this, because we could spin off in all directions here – but maybe there is some work for us to do that is our own? Maybe there is something about being ready for Jesus that cannot be shared but that we have to do for ourselves.
And I do not love the reaction of the so called ‘wise bridesmaids’ – they’ve become the ‘mean girls’ in my head. But sometimes there is a level of preparation that is our own.
A readiness to see, or to hear or to take responsibility, or to be open or whatever we need to be open to.
Like a text from a good friend, while writing my sermon. She is also a priest – so we started talking about this text and what we were going to say and I (as I do) went on a rant about the mean girls – and then she sent me a message that changed completely how I read this passage.
‘Yes’, she said, ‘but who is the host?’. Who is the host? I had completely left God out of it. How often in talking about things – in preparing, in thinking even in praying, do we forget that this relationship that we are in, is not just about us?
What if the women had enough – all of them to get in? Because what if all that they needed was inside?
It’s ok if your lamp is going out – come in and get more oil – or blow that lamp out completely because there is already enough light to see by.
We so often rely so completely on our selves, on our own humanness – on our own ability or in ability that we forget about the host.
Sure, bring what you can to the party – but know that all that you need is already inside.
So don’t miss out – don’t rush off to get more.
I’m not sure that this changes how I see the bridesmaids who got in, because I still don’t like that they didn’t share – and I’m not sure that I see how they are wise – they did after all send the others off – but they didn’t go anywhere.
This has made me wonder about the directive from Jesus in chapter 24: Keep Awake!
Where have we fallen asleep to God in our lives? How often do we forget that we are not the only ones in this relationship?
It is so human so assume that this is all on us – that we are the only ones who can do anything – and we do have to take responsibility for a lot. There is still a lot that we have to do – but we also have to remember not to take God out of it.