Proper 27A Pentecost 23 Matthew 25; 11/8/20
When I was younger, I felt confused because this parable of the wise and foolish maidens seems to convey a theme of rejection and I wondered how Jesus could reject anyone when we were taught that he loves everyone unconditionally. Understanding the background for the parable helps us to understand that Jesus wasn’t rejecting anyone.
Five of the ten maidens were invited but did not prepare their lamps.
Middle East weddings were planned in the late fall or winter, after the crops had been harvested. This meant less daylight in the evenings and since streetlights hadn’t been invented yet, it was exceedingly dark outside.
People were dependent on either candles or lamps not only for light on the inside of the house but to travel outside. Lamps were fueled either by butter or olive oil. If your family didn’t process its own butter or olive oil, it would have to be purchased in shops that were open limited hours.
Weddings would be held in the evenings between dusk to midnight depending on when the wedding party was ready and were sometimes a week long.
One would have to arrive early enough to be invited into the home with lamps as space was limited.
Arriving early enough to enter didn’t mean the wedding started on time. “On time” meant whenever the bride, groom and all the arrangements were ready.
One might arrive at 5:00 p.m. and wait outside until the wedding started near midnight. If one didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps, they’d run out before the wedding even started. Not only would they struggle to find their way to the door in the dark but it was a requirement that each guest would bring lamps to light the home as light represented happiness. If you look at pictures of churches in the Middle East at Easter, this is why you’ll see hundreds of lit candles bundled together all over the sanctuary.
Jesus is teaching us that the spiritual life involves preparation. This doesn’t mean that we have to work our way into heaven. Preparation means we allow heaven to work its way into us. Preparation is our work of opening up our heart, mind and will to make room for Jesus. The five were not ready to enter because they did not prepare and had no light to offer.
One reason Jesus told parables was because they made a point about the spiritual life. But the parable doesn’t give easy answers as they often leave us with more questions. In our age of street lamps and flash lights, it may be difficult to realize this parable working in our own life.
I am left with questions:
What kind of preparation is Jesus talking about for us?
What are our lamps today? What are we to bring to the wedding feast?
If the maidens were to bring oil and lamps, what are we to bring?
And how do we prepare?
Last week we reflected on the Beatitudes: the qualities of a Spirt led light filled life. Maybe the Beatitudes are a good place to begin. How do we prepare to receive the One who will fill us with his presence without measure?