The parable of the bridesmaids has always been problematic for me. Wait. Have your act together. Or else.
And the “or else”? Well it involves weeping, gnashing of teeth, being thrown out in the outer darkness and being locked out. Sucks to be you.
That’s not the God I believe in and yet here it is right here in Matthew.
Parables – reveal truth about God, Jesus and the kingdom. I’m thinking “I’m NOT liking this truth…”
What’s going on here? What was happening 2000 years ago? And is it much different from today as we have experienced yet another week of violence – this time hitting really close to home in that it happened during worship?
2000 years ago was a time of high anxiety. In Matthew’s world around 70 AD the temple lay in ruins. The Roman empire experienced five emperors in two years. The writer struggled to keep the community together under the persecution of the ongoing persecution. and everyone was praying for Jesus to coming back!
And you best have your act together, stay awake, be ready – unlike those five foolish women.
The use of “bridesmaids” and the shaming that goes with being the five that “didn’t have it together” and now have to deal with the “or else” is what makes this parable most uncomfortable for me.
So as not to confuse them with what we think of bridesmaids today, it may be more helpful to use “maidens” – young, unmarried who have been invite to the party and are waiting for the fun to begin. The bridegroom is horribly delays and the hour has grown late.
Eyes are heavy. All of them fall asleep and leave “the lights on”.
Wise. Foolish. Doesn’t matter with these maidens– their behavior is questionable.
Now that they are awakened by the long awaited bridegroom, they find that their lamps have gone out.
But wait, five of these maids have an extra flask of oil. And they are proud of their forethought. And they do not share with the five who didn’t have foresight to do the same thing. And, they say…go buy some more.
In other word, they hoard their source, assuming that there is not enough for everyone to have some. Selfish. Ungenerous. Working from a fear of scarcity.
I don’t think that is what we are supposed to do with the light.
This precious oil – source of light. Off they go in the dead of night. The most dangerous time, especially for young ladies. But they manage to wrangle up some oil, get back . But it’s too late – the door is closed and no one will let them.
What makes the first five “wise” is that they get to go to the party because they were ungenerous and wouldn’t share.
And the other five? They didn’t bring any oil. They had no reserves. They got locked because they had no reserves, couldn’t get some in a timely manner, they were not prepared for a long wait.
A long wait.
It’s hard to wait but to wait alone is even harder. Could that be the truth that we need to hear? Forget the judgment, the shame, just be there for one another so that no one is left out in the cold? No one is left behind?
Learn from the five “foolish” women that we do need to make sure that we have oil – a source of light – from remembering our baptism to hearing the word to gathering around the table for nourishment. Give me oil for my lamp, joy in my heart, love in my heart keep me burning, praising, serving ‘til the break of day…
Learn from the five “wise” but ungenerous women, to not force people out, that no one deserves to feel shame and that in our community no one is locked out. That all truly means all? What would have changed if these women had said, from the beginning, did you think to bring extra oil – go get some now rather. In other words, help others be filled with the goodness of Jesus.
There was no relationship between these women. They weren’t looking out for each other. They weren’t a community.
And that where this parable REALLY rubs me the wrong way. Those “foolish” women asked for help, asked that the others share what they have with them so that ALL of them could have light, could participate in the promise of the coming bridegroom – Jesus.
And they were told “no!”. Kind of like the pharisees who only cared about their own lamps, their own salvation.
And perhaps that’s it, too! Be a community – the one that rejoices together, that cries together, that welcomes AND invites. And assures that no one HAS to wait alone! That we share what we have with others, regardless of the reason behind their not having enough.
Be a community that lives in relationship – not only with the living Lord but with each other. That cares for each other. That doesn’t judge, the seeks transformation of the heart – our own and others. That, rather thinking from a place of scarcity and fear, acts from a place of generosity, that there is enough to go around!
And that we are responsible for the “other” among us. It is on us if they are left in the outer darkness if we don’t share our light with them.
Jesus calls us to keep everyone’s lamp is filled with oil, to keep us burning for the Lord.