READING: Matthew 25:1-13 NRSV
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the callous nature of those who are labeled “wise” in this parable. When the bridegroom comes, and the bridesmaids get up and trim the wicks on their lamps, and the foolish ones find that they do not have enough oil, I honestly expect the wise ones to share. They have enough, and more than enough, and although it is not maybe wise to share, I would think that the law of love who call us to expand our circle and help those in need. I know that I have received undeserved generosity from others in the past, and that it truly felt like a miracle. Perhaps it is helpful to think about it like the instructions you are given before your plane takes off, to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. You must have enough oil to survive in order to help on another day. Where do you struggle with this text? Do you consider yourself in the wise camp, or the foolish one? Why?
2. What delights or comforts me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why? As I am certain you already know, I am a person who lies to be prepared. I have lists. My list have lists. I have plans. My plans have back up plans. At the surface at least, this story seems to reward those who are prepared. But even more, it rewards those who pair their preparation with patience. All of the bridesmaids wait so long that they grow drowsy and sleep. But they don’t give up and go home. They wait, in hope. And when the bridegroom comes, the wise ones are ready to go at a moment’s notice. They don’t worry about what they have, or don’t, they just get up and go. They greet the bridegroom and are welcomed into the feast. When was a time when you were prepared? Unprepared? In what ways did your preparation or unpreparedness have an effect on your circumstances?
3. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story intersect with my life? I am writing this devotion on the morning after the election, when there is still no decisive winner. It is tough to wait. Through the pandemic, in many ways, we have unintentionally also entered into a long season of waiting. Waiting for test results. Waiting for the wave to arrive. Getting impatient with waiting, and struggling to see where God is acting. I have never felt more camaraderie with the original audience of Matthew’s Gospel as I do today. The first disciples truly believed that Jesus would come back and usher in the end of the world in their lifetimes, and, by the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian community was getting tired of waiting. The horizon of their liberation kept getting farther and farther away, until it seemed that there was no end in sight. When I start to despair of seeing the horizon of all the major issues of our time, I take comfort in the knowledge that the bridegroom WILL come. In fact, the bridegroom is already with us, sustaining us, uplifting us, giving us the bright, though tiny, light of hope. Where do you find hope in this text? What are you looking forward to, even when the horizon seems far away?
4. What is God up to in this text? What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message? When I consider where I am being called by this text, I am drawn back to the image of the flask of oil. What is the spiritual oil that I have to sustain me during a long season of waiting? What practices can I lean into? Where does God consistently speak to me, and how can I take time, make time, to listen?
I pray that the oil in your lamp of faith will continue to sustain you. If you need help finding some more, please know that I am willing to share (even if the parable said I shouldn’t 😊). Christ, be our light, our source, our hope, now and in the long wait to come.