Below is my reflection on the parable of the bridesmaids, or the wise and foolish maidens. We tried something a little bit different at church yesterday–a narrated service. This service included explanations of why we worship the way we do and what we believe happens in worship. Because of all these additions to the service, I kept my sermon very short–so the congregation didn’t feel like they were waiting and waiting with no end in sight!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we planned this special service, one of the things I took note of in the instructions was where it said, “A brief sermon should be preached.” I did my best. It was hard, because we have such an interesting parable from Matthew’s gospel of the wise and foolish maidens.
Since I am trying to stay brief, I’ll dive right in. This parable doesn’t make a ton of sense without understanding the community to which it was told. Matthew is writing his gospel around the year 80. That first generation of believers, the ones who knew and walked with Jesus have died, and the church is beginning to wonder—we have the promise of Jesus’ return, how much longer will we have to wait?
This parable speaks to their situation—waiting without knowing when it will happen. They are warned not to be complacent in their waiting, but to always be ready, to always be on watch. Part of the struggle with this parable is that neither of these groups of women comes off looking too great.
We all know the types—there’s the ones who don’t prepare, who try to rush and do everything at the last minute. The ones who don’t pull their own weight on the committee or project, but expect others, who have worked and prepared to cover for them. These bridesmaids didn’t take any oil at all. It’s not that they ran out, they made no plans and anticipated no delay.
Then are the maidens who had enough oil. Good for them, we have to say, but couldn’t they have been a little nicer about it? There’s more than a hint of “I told you so,” in their response. Why couldn’t they have shared? Why do they assume there won’t be enough for everyone? The announcement of the groom’s imminent arrival has already been sounded, after all. At the very least, could they have propped a side-door open at the feast?
But when we get so focused in on comparing the maidens to one another, I think we miss the broader point of the parable. And that is the bridegroom. For Matthew’s first listeners, the point was that they ought to stay alert and active in the faith, even though the delay seemed long.
For Christians today, we are not anticipating the second coming of Christ any day now. In fact, we’re probably ok with a longer delay. For us, I think the heart of this parable is that the bridegroom, that Christ, arrives when least expected.
The love of God will continue to appear in our lives in surprising and unexpected ways, if we are paying attention. Jesus Christ comes when Christian people live in hope and never give up. Jesus Christ comes when faithful disciples express love and compassion and work for justice. Jesus Christ comes when critically ill people know they are ultimately safe in God’s love.
When God’s love breaks into our world, into our lives, when it wakes us from our slumber—how will we react? May we continue to announce with a glad shout the places we see God at work, those surprising, unpredictable places. And let us join in, lest we miss the feast. Amen.