“Don’t miss the point”
The Gospel Lesson for today, Matthew 25: 1 – 13 – as we draw closer to the end of the Church Year – is the parable of the ten wedding maids waiting for the bride groom, which Jesus told as a lesson for being prepared for his second coming. The groom said, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
Let me quickly retell the story. There are ten bridesmaids. The task of a bridesmaid in the context of this story is to greet the bridegroom – that is why bridesmaids are needed. That is what they prepared for – in fact, that was their only job. If you think about the meticulous preparations that bridesmaids and groomsmen go through today, it wouldn’t have been any different back then. This was their big moment.
If the kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids, as Jesus says, of which five made it in the end to the wedding celebration, and five didn’t – then his point has to be – make sure you are among the five that did. The Greek word for the five foolish bridesmaids has the English equivalent “moron” – so don’t be one of them!
What is the difference between the five that make it to the wedding and those that don’t? There is no difference in that all of them fall asleep. But there is a difference in their sleeping – a difference that is only revealed at the point of their waking up – a difference marked by the preparations that they took before they fell asleep. With a shock, five of the girls realize, there is no more oil. At the most crucial moment, their lights go out. The point is, no one knew when the bridegroom was going to arrive. When the foolish girls fell asleep, the fact is that they hadn’t prepared. They did not make the necessary arrangements to supply oil for their lamps.
The whole story centres around ‘having oil’ – not ‘running out of oil.’ What is this oil? What is this substance that we want to have plenty of? In the commentaries the lamps are described as the women’s hearts that they filled with wisdom and foresight, with love which gave them spiritual strength. The early church fathers taught that this oil was the Holy Spirit. I like that. The oil in our Christian lives stands for something that is constantly used, and needs to be replenished, and can’t be borrowed. There is an oil in our lives, that keeps us alive, that keeps us on fire for Jesus.
Your faith doesn’t just mean that you belong to a church, get baptized, confirmed, and claim a good pedigree. This is the point of the story. Your faith needs to be nourished and fed. It needs to be nurtured and grow, or it is in danger of going out like a oil lamp without oil. The lamp of our Christian life can go out. The oil can be consumed. It can run out.
That is why I have called today’s sermon: “Don’t miss the point.” Sometimes we miss the point. Men, and husbands in particular, can be prone to do that. Let’s say for example, I am having an animated discussion with my wife, and at one point she says in frustration, “Why do you always have to be right?” Now, I know that this is a critical moment – time to say something smart. So, I give it my best shot at apologising: “I’m sorry that I’m always right” or “I’m sorry that you feel I’m always right…” I can’t help but feel that I have somewhat missed the point – it’s OK – I have a great wife who educates me, she keeps working on me, so that’s not detrimental.
But look at this story. The five who run out of oil hear the most painful words you can ever hear Jesus say: “I don’t know you.” These five foolish girls missed the point, they missed the coming of the bridegroom, they missed the whole reason for being at the wedding. Their whole purpose of going to the wedding was to welcome the bridegroom, and they missed him. When he arrived, the bridegroom said, “I don’t know you.”
This is one of the stories I have heard and known since early childhood, and I never liked these words of Jesus at the end. I always imagined a harsh condemning voice, “I don’t know you – get out of here” – until becoming a pastor. You see over the years a lot of people have come to me asking for references. They have applied for jobs or positions where a reference from their pastor was needed. Sometimes I have said, “Let’s get together so that I can hear your story – get to know you.” Sometimes I have said, “I can write, that from what I know of you, you are a lovely person, but I can’t comment on your faith-life and commitment.” Sometimes I have even said, “I’m sorry, I can’t write anything – because I just don’t know you.”
I think that experience has given me just a glimpse of what Jesus is saying, when he says, “Go away – I don’t know you.” Or better – how he says it. The picture of Jesus that I have in mind is one of him suffering under the pain of rejection – just like when he wept over Jerusalem, and the leaders, because they rejected him. Jesus cries as says, “I don’t know you” – there is a tear in his eye. I so wanted to be your friend, your leader, the Lord of your life. But you never wanted to know me – and now I just don’t know you. You slept through your life – you’ve missed the point of your life.”
That is a terrible thing to hear. What if, at the end of a person’s life, all Jesus can say is, “Your life was a remarkable performance, it was interesting, lively, and fascinating. I was amazed to see the amount of money you collected. Fascinated by how many people came along to your funeral – you must have been well liked. But sadly, you missed the point. I don’t really know you.”
Don’t miss the point of your life. You can be wide awake and be ‘sleeping spiritually.’ You can be wide awake, working like blazes, rushing around like a madman, making lots of money, friends, influence, and building up some purpose for your life. While there is nothing wrong with anything God has created in this world, you have missed the point, when you won’t let Jesus have a part of it. You are asleep when you forget that your days are numbered, (Psalm 90:12). You are asleep when you forget that you are accountable for your actions – that you are called to live by the law of love.
The real theme of this parable is not the last hour of Jesus’ coming, or your last hour, which nobody knows when it will be. What is far more important is that this is a parable about the present moment, now, today. That is the point. What is important is where you are at today, your work, your life – everything – and where Jesus is fitting in, the Jesus who loves you, who wants to live with you. Are you giving him a chance to get to know you?
Are we responding to his many invitations? Come to me, you weary and burdened. If anyone is hungry, let him come. I am the bread of life. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, and opens, I will come in and eat with him.
Are you listening to what he wants to say to you? Are you listening with your heart – because that is how he wants to change you, restore you, heal and transform you, penetrate and permeate your heart, and give you faith? Are you listening – because that is the mystery of this oil? You think you are learning and getting to know Jesus. It is the other way around – in opening yourself to God, the one who already intimately knows you, God is coming close to you.
The early Fathers taught that the oil is the Holy Spirit in us – a dynamic living force, breathing in and through us. Soon, we’ll be in the season of Advent again. Advent time is the preparation of the coming of the Lord. Are you ready for Jesus coming? Because Jesus comes in so many different ways and opportunities to share this life-giving oil.
Jesus comes to you in the sick friend in hospital, and you share the oil, and let your light shine when you find the courage to visit, or simply sit quietly at the bed. He may be coming to you in the family fight, where you have opportunity to let your light shine, and be an ambassador of peace and re-union. He comes to you in the child that demands your time, and you share this life-giving oil when you make time in your busy schedule. He comes to you in your work place or your sports team or hobby group, wherever he gives you an opportunity to exercise the gifts and fruit of the Spirit – and just let your light shine, in the language you choose to use, the kindness you show, the help you offer. The amazing thing about this oil is, the more you give out, the more you get. The more time you seem to be spending, the more you are getting to know Jesus, and he is getting to know you.
These texts are not about the future, they are about the present – because that future moment when Jesus meets you, is only the summary of your time with him now that he will recall about your life, and how well you knew him, and he knew you. That will be a day of surprises, because many of the things we did, we will not even have realised we did them. We won’t even know how the Spirit was at work in our lives.
It will be a surprise to recognise Jesus – to see him and say, “I know you!” It will be a surprise to hear him say, “Come in, enter your rest. Everything you did – I know you didn’t do any of these things to earn your salvation, or to get to heaven, but we really got to know each other, and I know you, too!” Amen.
The audio of this sermon is available on this web page.