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07.19.15 Dressed for the Wedding Feast, Matthew 25:1-13 Sermon Summary

by on July 20, 2015

Since we know “neither the day nor the hour,” it could happen any time and in any place—maybe even now, maybe even here.

Summary Points

  • A perspective on the “Last Judgment”
  • The meaning of the parable to Matthew and African slaves
  • An interpretation of the parable for today
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

By where it appears in the Gospel of Mathew, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is a commentary on the “end times.” The surrounding chapters include rumors of worldwide distress, both in creation and among nations. Jesus warns of false messiahs. There are echoes of the story of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark. There are also stories of the “last judgment,” most famously the parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats. Matthew wants us to hear about the Ten Bridesmaids in this context.

Hosea also includes a judgment scenario. He is the prophet commanded to marry an unfaithful spouse, Gomer. With her he has three children with challenging names: Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi. Translated into our day, this is like naming your children Sand Creek Massacre, Not Pitied, and Not My People. This active parable results from the people’s love for God being as evanescent as morning dew.

In our passage this morning, God likens himself to a lion who rips the people apart like prey and carries them away. God withdraws his affection, speaking words that cut to the heart, that even “kill.”

But Hosea knows that after judgment comes grace. He who tears apart will heal. The one who strikes down will build up. The one who blinds with lightning will appear as the dawn; who drowns with floods will gently water like spring rain. Sand Creek becomes Eden, God shows pity, he reclaims his people as his own.

Maybe with God, the “final judgment” isn’t final after all.

The parables of Jesus have many messages. This is the beauty of the parables, and for some of us, the key to retrieving the Bible from the critique of science and reason. In Matthew’s setting of the parable, the message is “Keep awake!” We suspect this is Matthew’s addition to Jesus’ parable because in the parable, “all (even the exemplary wise) became drowsy and fell asleep.”

Among African slaves in the United States, the message was, “Keep your lamps, trimmed and burning.” They came up with this message despite the fact that, “all the bridesmaids (even the exemplary wise) got up and trimmed their lamps.” (To understand their interpretation, however, see also Luke 12:35.)

So here is one message from the parable for us today. In this parable, there is a warning before the final judgment. The Bridegroom is delayed, till “midnight,” but then there is an announcement of his imminent arrival. There was enough time for the foolishness of five of the Bridesmaids to be revealed as all trimmed their lamps. It’s like the moment of time just before the locked car door shuts when you realize the keys are still inside.

But wise drivers have a spare key, and so one message of the parable is to “Keep oil on hand.” We can’t presume to know when and where Christ will appear. It may be a while—it has been a while for some of us.

So one message of the parable is to get the oil while you can. Let me suggest two times when you can get your oil. The first is in those times of Serendipity. These are the unplanned times of refreshing, joy, abundance, and shalom. I had such a time today following an early morning walk.

The second time for replenishing your oil is during a Sabbath. This is the time we are commanded to take to remember times of Serendipity. It is during Sabbath that we look back in our own lives or listen to others testify to their own experiences of Serendipity.

By Serendipity and Sabbath, we keep oil on hand and are ready for Christ’s return, for the judgment. It could happen at any time, in any place; which suggests that in reality, it happens all the time, throughout our lives, and not just at the end.

If we would be wise, we will keep oil on hand, by recognizing Serendipity and remembering Sabbath. Then we can offer light in the dark night. Then we may even offer oil to those “foolish” ones who need it, and maybe that is the wisest message of the parable after all.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How do you respond to the idea that the parables, and even the whole Bible, contain many meanings that can change depending on context? How has the meaning of the Bible changed in your own life?
  • Where have you seen God’s judgment transform into blessing, as it did for Hosea. Where has God’s mercy and grace followed a word of judgment in your own life?
  • What are some example of Serendipity in your life? How have you marked these for easy remembrance during Sabbath?
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