Why are they all so mean?! Aren’t we supposed to share? Where’s the grace?
This parable is about the Judgment at the end of the age. Spoiler alert – that’s the theme for the next few weeks. And the truth is we don’t much like talking about Judgment. We’d much rather talk about grace and forgiveness. And, when we do talk about judgment, we want to be able to tell who’s going to be in and who’s going to be out and how to make sure we’re in.
The trouble is, we don’t get to be the judge. Well, actually, thank God we don’t. God alone is our judge. God alone is our salvation as Rev. Natalie preached last week. What’s more, God alone knows when that day will be.
In the meantime – and it’s a long meantime – what’s the Good News in this parable?
Let’s start by looking back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Matthew - the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “You are light for the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on a lampstand where it shines for everyone in the house.”
And here at the end, right before the Passion, we have a parable about light and having enough oil to keep the light burning through a long night of waiting, trimming the wick so it doesn’t burn too fast.
It ends with the warning “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
What does it mean to keep awake? Evidently it isn’t referring to literal sleep. The wedding attendants all fell asleep; that didn’t seem to be a problem. I wonder if the problem was that they were at risk of letting their light go out. They didn’t keep their oil flasks filled.
The light of Christ shines in each and every one of us. We proclaim that at every baptism as we give the newly baptized a candle lit from the Paschal Candle. I still have mine. Baptism is just the beginning, though. The beginning of a life of discipleship formed around the baptismal covenant we renewed just last week. A life of being light for the world.
The life of Christian discipleship cannot be separated from any other aspect of our lives: family, work, community and civic life; of being a member of society.
It’s been a long week. I know some of you are elated. And some are a bit disappointed it wasn’t a bigger, better win. And some may have hoped for a different outcome. But, voting is just the beginning of the next stage. The work of civic engagement continues, regardless of who the person is in the office, regardless of the letter after their name. Political leaders aren’t saviors; they’re partners in creating a society. The work of being a society is a group effort. As is the work of being church, the work of being family. All are part of the life of discipleship; of being light for the world.
It has been a long week and we may be feeling a bit weary; like our light is growing dim. How will we keep our lamps full?Let’s dip back into the parable.
I spent some time pondering some of the details. Why wouldn’t they share their oil? Couldn’t they have at least shared the light from their lamps so they could all go into the wedding banquet together? Where would they be able to find dealers to buy oil? It's the middle of the night!
Now, I don’t know if I’ve found the right words to explain some possible answers, but I’ll give it a try.
On the one hand, we can share our light with others. In fact, I think that’s the point. Together, we shine a brighter light, a stronger light. Jesus talks about a city on a hill, not a house. A community gathered together as light for the world.
On the other hand, discipleship can’t be lived vicariously. I can’t do it for anyone else, any more than I can eat your dinner for you. No matter how much I eat, you’ll still be hungry unless you, yourself, eat. We each have to do the work of discipleship; we each have to get the oil to keep our lamps burning.
Where do you find an oil dealer in the middle of the night?
The oil for our lamps comes from God. And as it turns out, God is open 24/7/365. The shelves are always full, God never runs out.
What’s the oil that keeps your light burning? How do you get it? Are there particular spiritual practices, like prayer, worship, sabbath keeping? Or maybe it’s with other people or particular activities.
Now, what about the path to God’s store, so to speak? The winds of the pandemic have blown down a lot of trees across the roads. Many of the familiar routes are blocked and no one has put up detour signs to show us how to get around them. Does it feel that way to you sometimes?
There’s still some oil; many lamps are lit and burning brightly. Let’s share the light we have and together find new routes to God’s unending store of oil. God always provides a way to keep our lamps filled. Together, our lamps burning brightly, we will be like a city on a hill – light for the world.