Stupid Is as Stupid Does
Over the next few weeks we are going to be entering into an area of the gospels that make Lutherans squirm, because the gospel lessons for the next three weeks are all parables of judgment. Judgment is not an area that grace filled Lutherans cope with well. We like parables of grace; such as the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. We love hearing how the Father runs to the wayward son and brings him back into the fold. We love hearing how the shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for the one that wandered off. We enjoy hearing about how God goes to the ends of the earth to safe the wayward and lost and we really get uncomfortable with words like “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a true Lutheran. Grace is the beginning, middle and end of God’s plan and I believe in my bones that God’s ultimate plan is for all of creation. I realize that there are a number of branches of Christianity that would question my belief, but frankly I don’t care. What God achieved through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son isn’t limited to the few people that found Jesus. God is bigger and more powerful than anyone’s finite belief system. With all that being said, I actually love Matthew’s parables of judgment because they challenge us to think about how God’s grace unfolds in the world and what God expects for all of us.
A few weeks ago we had the parable about the king who through a wedding for his son and invited all the usual people and they made light of the invitation and turned him down. In response the king invited all the people, both the good and the bad, to the wedding party. One man didn’t have on the proper attire and when the king asked why the gentleman wasn’t wearing a wedding garment the man said nothing and was kick out of the party. I explained that the man wasn’t kicked out because of his clothing, but because the man said nothing. Nothing is not the response the king was looking for because nothing is the same response that the king received from the first group that were invited to the party. “Nothing” just doesn’t cut it.
Today’s gospel lesson is similar to the wedding banquet lesson in that our attention is drawn to what is the obvious conclusion and that is that the man wasn’t prepared for the wedding feast. However, the real issue is that the man “said nothing.” Not engaging with the king was the last straw so to speak. Today’s parable about the ten bridesmaids, five foolish and five wise, has it’s own not so obvious conclusion.
Jesus says that the kingdom of God can be compared to ten bridesmaids, five wise and five foolish. The wise bridesmaids brought extra oil and the foolish didn’t bring any extra oil. Unfortunately the bridegroom was delayed and it wasn’t until around midnight that the bridegroom arrived. The five wise bridesmaids trimmed their lamps and had enough oil while the five foolish had no oil. The foolish bridesmaids asked the wise bridesmaids for some oil, but the wise tell the foolish no that they have none to spare and that they need to go to the market and buy oil. While the foolish are off buying oil the bridegroom returns and everyone present is allowed in. When the foolish bridesmaids return the doors to the palace are shut and they are left out in the dark.
On the surface it appears that the parable is about being prepared for the coming of the Son of man by having enough supplies stored up. People have used this parable and others as biblical proof that Christians should stockpile goods for the coming of the last days. I don’t believe that is where the parable is leading us especially when you read it in conjunction with the rest of Matthew’s gospel. I seriously doubt that Jesus, who in the Sermon on the Mount, tells his disciples to let today’s troubles be sufficient for today and to look at the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air, all of the sudden tells his disciples to stockpile goods. Nope, not going there. I think the foolishness of the bridesmaids has very little to do with their supply of oil, and everything to do with them thinking they even needed oil in the first place.
The whole premise of the parable is about being prepared for a bridegroom who is unpredictable to begin with. I mean what kind of bridegroom shows up at midnight to begin the wedding party? I would venture to say it is a bridegroom unlike all bridegrooms in the past. This bridegroom plays by his own rules and all pretense and decorum can be thrown out the window. It isn’t simply preparedness that gets one through the door, but rather presence. The wise bridesmaids aren’t wise simply because they had enough oil, but because they were present when the bridegroom appeared. It wasn’t their oil that got them through the door it was their presence. The foolish were not simply foolish for not having enough oil, they were foolish because they left. They were foolish because they thought going to the market at midnight and leaving the gate was a good idea. The price of admittance was not oil it was presence. It’s about being present in our relationships with God and with each other. The light we need is the light of Christ, which is symbolized in our baptismal candles. In baptism we are given a candle with the words, “Let your light shine before others so that God may see your good works.” Good works doesn’t get you in, but rather trust in God and the light of God leads to good works.
Now I know that we all think we are the wise bridesmaids and that we are all prepared for what God throws our way, but I think we all tend to lean towards the foolish bridesmaids. As the prophet Amos points out, it isn’t our belief that opens the doors to the kingdom and it isn’t even our worship. Rather, what God expects from us is to live out the meat and potatoes of our faith through our actions. We are to not worry too much about what kind of worship service we have, or what time we worship, but how we lead our lives outside of this space. The foolish bridesmaids thought that the oil was essential to their relationship with the bridegroom, and in their ignorance they missed the boat. The foolish bridesmaids’ focus was in the wrong place. What the bridegroom was looking for were people willing to enter and prepared to enter the kingdom. All the foolish had to do was to not go wandering off looking for that which wasn’t essential to the relationship.
How often do we do that with our relationship with God and with each other? How often do we focus on the foolish things of life thinking that they are important and end up wandering away from the Son? We are called to be prepared, but our preparedness begins with presence. If we are not present then it doesn’t matter how prepared we are. If our focus is on all the superficial aspects of life we miss out on the big picture.
God wants to be in relationship with us, foolish or wise. God knows our strengths and our weaknesses and God works miracles through it all. However, God can’t do anything with us if were not available. We are called to be available as individuals and as a congregation. As individuals we are called to be the light of Christ in the world and as a congregation we are to work as a collective bringing good news to all through our outreach and ministry. We don’t need a lot to achieve these goals, but we do need to be present.