- Rev. Sandra Larson
Do We Put Off What’s Really Important?
October 20, 2019
Do We Put Off What’s Really Important?
Don't you hate it when your lamp runs out of oil right before a middle-of-the-night wedding gathering? In Jesus’ time, one of the most important jobs of bridesmaids was to light the way if the groom was scheduled to arrive after dark since there were NO streetlights or yard lamps. The wise bridesmaids were ready to light the way for the groom. The inattentive bridesmaids probably spent time fixing their hair and make-up and polishing their nails and…well, they lost sight of priorities. The groom was late very late. So all the maids fell asleep but when they were wakened, the oil lamps of negligent maids were dark and empty of fuel. Their lights went out. Despite being middle of the night, they finally found oil to re-light their lamps. But it was too late. The groom had already arrived and the party started without them. The door was closed and not re-opened. The foolish bridesmaids were treated as outsiders because they lost track of what was important. This parable is often simplified as instruction about wakefulness—so no sleeping during worship services! Yet, even the wise bridesmaids fell asleep while waiting. A messenger woke all the bridesmaids when the groom was on his way. Jesus sets the wise apart from the foolish by their preparedness. The wise bridesmaids were prepared to light the way for the groom.
The Bible frequently focuses on purposeful waiting. Isaiah 40 reminds us, "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” God’s kingdom on earth continues to be delayed. Christians still wonder when Jesus will return. Some people give up in discouragement or disillusionment. Are we like foolish bridesmaids who may think, “The groom will not come; the wedding celebration was an empty promise.” Lax Christians get sloppy and neglect spiritual practices or even lose faith. Jesus described the wiser bridesmaids as “those who were ready.”
Ready for what? The wise bridesmaids were ready for the groom’s delay.
If the groom arrived when they hoped, then all the bridesmaids would have been able to hold their lanterns high for his coming. But the bridegroom, like the kingdom of heaven, did not arrive right away. The wise girls planned for possible delay. Yet when the groom was extremely late, even the well-prepared bridesmaids did not have enough oil to share with the ill-prepared maids. If the maids who had enough oil had shared their fuel with those who had empty lamps, no one would have had enough fuel to light the whole route of the wedding procession.
The metaphor of light is not lost on Jesus’ listeners: There was no electricity in those days, so a wedding parade without lamps would have been walking in the dark. Light is often used as a symbol of strength and insight. For example, one of the ancient Greek Olympic games, the winner was not the runner who finished first. The runner who finished with his torch still lit won the race. Yet this parable is about more than general wisdom about being prepared and being careful.
Light is often used as a symbol of spiritual insight. We all want to make time for what is spiritually important. We have good intentions for spending time in prayer, Bible study and service, but we get lax or distracted from our spiritual practices. Intentional spiritual preparedness requires personal discipline. Similarly, if we could benefit from someone else doing physical fitness for us, we could pay someone to do an exercise workout to strengthen our heart and to do abdominal crunches to tone our flabby tummy. We need to do our own exercise. Physical fitness is not transferable. Spiritual fitness is not transferable either.
Some Christians give up on the promise of new life in Christ. Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids addresses spiritual fools who neglect ongoing commitments of faith that light the way for the New Creation. Later may be too late!
Scripture says in many ways that we are not in ultimate control despite being inclined to want what we want, and to want it right now. Our relationship with God doesn't work that way. The Bible promises that the bridegroom will come: The long-expected Jesus will return to usher in God’s new creation. The wise remain prepared to help light the way for him! As Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, "This is the hour to receive God's favor; today is the day to be saved! [2 Cor.6.2] If we see the bridesmaids parable as allegory, then Jesus probably intended the bridesmaids to represent the Virgins in the OT who symbolize God’s Chosen people. The light in the parable lights the way for the return of the Messiah. Some Bible commentators say that the oil for the lamps is our good deeds. Our good deeds pave the way for the coming of God’s Kingdom. Others say that the oil represents our spiritual practices. Being spiritually in tune with God opens the way for transformation. If we neglect good works or spiritual practices, we risk NOT being a part of God’s New Creation. Others interpret the lamp oil to be God's grace. If oil is God’s grace, then our mission is to carry God’s grace to light the way for others to find God’s New Creation celebration! Whether the lamp oil represents our good works, our spiritual practices or God’s grace, how do we make sure that we always have plenty oil? I’m convinced that re-fueling requires praying, reading the Bible and participating in an ongoing Bible study group—So that God’s Spirit can empower and guide us. The Book of Revelation promises that when the New Creation arrives: “There shall be no longer any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord will be their light and they shall reign forever.” Are we intentional about spiritual preparedness? Are we spiritually equipped for delays or set-backs? When difficulties or delays come, do we have God’s strength to rely upon-–beyond our own capabilities?
Have you checked your oil lately? Don’t let your light go out. Be ready to shine your lamp. Otherwise, you may find the door already closed to God’s new creation celebration. A grade school once had problems with children leaving debris that attracted nasty vermin. The principal announced that the school would give a prize to the student whose desk was found in the best order when the contest ended. He gave no indication of when that might be. Marny, who was known for her messy habits, announced that she planned to win the prize.
Her classmates jeered, "Why, Marny, your desk is always a mess! You almost never clean it."
She replied, "Starting right now, I’m going to clean it up perfectly the first day of every week." "Suppose the contest ends at the end of the week?"
"Well…I’ll clean my desk every morning."
"What if the contest ends in the afternoon?" Mary thought, then her face brightened and she said,“I’ll just keep it clean all the time!"
That’s how we can be—living according to God’s vision: Ready all the time. Do we put off what is really important?