The wise and foolish virgins
Did you know, that Moving House is one of the most stressful things you can do? Apart from anything else, things go missing, and if you’ve moved house more than once you’ll know you won’t even be aware of what’s been lost until you actually need it, and can’t find it! Preparation is vital.
In today’s gospel story, it seems the value of preparation was unknown to half of the bridesmaids. But, is there a lesson here for us? Is it no more than good advice about preparation in general?
Well, although we can see that being unprepared, can bring disaster, this story is much deeper than that. It’s a parable about the coming of the Kingdom of God through the life of Jesus.
But if that’s the case, is today’s reading no more than a challenge from Jesus to the Jews of his day? Is he telling them that they need to take him more seriously?
We can see how, in this parable, he was saying that through him, God was coming to meet them, because it was Jewish custom to compare the Kingdom of Heaven with a wedding feast. And so Jesus was the groom, and those girls with trimmed lamps represent people who accepted Jesus and were therefore prepared for the celebrations at the wedding feast in the Kingdom of God.
And so, we may be tempted to think that if this is the case, then, because of its historical setting, this particular teaching doesn’t apply to us.
But, we can’t get off the hook quite as easily as that.
The work of Jesus is unique because it alters the way in which men and women understand how God relates to us. Jesus is the human face of God, and in him a new age of understanding was born.
We belong to this continuing new age in which God’s rule is to be brought to bear on the world; and in our part of this new age, no less than in the time of the historical Jesus and his first followers, we need to listen to the warning that it’s easy to go slack on the job. It’s easy to stop paying attention to God’s work and its demands. It’s easy to think that we’re OK because we’re God’s chosen people. After all, look at us. We’re all decent, church-going folk who support good causes.
But the gospel message tells us that all of this means nothing. We can never be acceptable to God through good works. Unless good works are born as a response to the love of God for us and shown to us through Christ; and unless we continually recognise our own absolute unworthiness, then we shall be unprepared when the moment suddenly arrives.
The coming of God’s reign should be high on our agendas; and festivals which point to its coming, such as the Feast of Christ the King in two weeks’ time, and then Advent and Christmas, should be times of great rejoicing and renewal. Times when the enormous love of God for us and our pathetic response to him, can move us to tears.
But how many of us will focus enough time on preparation through these busy autumn months? How many of us will run the danger of arriving at Christmas with empty stockings and tired souls, because we haven’t taken a good hard look at ourselves?
We need to remember that we’re called to be carriers of God’s light into a dark world, and to be bearers of it we need to be even better prepared than the five wise bridesmaids.
But we’re often ill prepared to carry this wonderful light. We neglect worship during busy seasons, or we become so absorbed in our own little church world that our efforts to resist anything that disturbs our comfort zone makes us grumpy Christians whose lamps just won’t attract others.
We forget the gospel message of free saving grace, and we try to buy our own salvation as we create hurried schedules and miserable moods during the Advent and Christmas seasons of peace and love.
In short, we forget to fill our lamps, with the love of Jesus. And you know, it’s the love of Jesus which attracts people to church. We love God by loving other people, and at the risk of repeating myself, love is shown so much more clearly through actions rather than through words or feelings.
So as we prepare to move into this Advent season of preparation, perhaps today’s parable can challenge us to find ways of filling our lamps and shining Christ’s light into a world of darkness and despair. When we take the time to listen; when we have the humility to let God’s spirit guide us; when we surround ourselves with the strong light of the community of Christ’s followers, then our lamps are filled and ready. Then we can take that light out into the world, and we can carry light that will fill the lamps of others.
In this way we become more than just wise bridesmaids, we become generous givers of love and light. We become channels through which the bridegroom is pleased to come time and again to his bride.