Two weeks ago I started thinking about the parable/story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids (Mathew 25:1-13) which was the basis of a sermon on November 12. The minister commented that it was a difficult passage – one you must live with to get what Jesus was saying. It is not obvious and it is challenging. The minister wrestled with how a loving God could close a door to anyone and why people chosen to be bridesmaids would not share their lamp oil with the less fortunate who were running out of oil. I have been a preacher for 35 years and a minister for 49, and here I am once again wrestling with this scripture for the past two weeks.
The story is not about sharing; it is about being prepared. Being prepared for what? Jesus introduces the story as being about being prepared to enter the Kingdom of God. What does he mean by “Kingdom of God”? This is where evolutionary thinking kicks in for me. This reading comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry and the church places it on the cusp of the season of Advent when we begin again to think about celebrating the entry of Jesus into our lives. I think Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God as life blessed by peace, hope, joy, and love – four important themes in Jesus’ teaching which the church has chosen for the four weeks of advent. An evolutionary perspective recognizes that scripture is about how we live in a complex matrix of life, gifts and opportunities that enable us to grow and evolve. Evolutionary theology does not see Jesus as the one who swoops in at the last minute and makes everything okay. Rather, Jesus is a partner in creation who works with us to make an uncertain future a blessing rather than a disaster. The truth we do not want to believe is that this depends on us, not Jesus. And that means if we are not prepared (don’t have enough oil for the task) when we are called to take the bridegroom to the party, we will lose the opportunity and be shut out. We will miss our opportunity to be part of creation where we experience peace, hope, joy and love. No one can give me their oil; I have to have my own source and I have to have some in reserve for when it is needed.
We live in a culture that believes in safety nets, government handouts, making laws so some disaster will never happen again. We live with a sense of entitlement. I don’t have to save for retirement because the government will give me a pension. If my house is damaged in a flood the government should buy it back from me so I don’t have to suffer. Health care is free. Well, not free, we have to pay into it through our taxes, but we want to pay as little as possible to get these benefits.
The truth is if we blame others for our troubles and wait too long to say “I’m sorry for my part in a problem or difficult situation”, the consequence could be loss of a relationship. We can wait too long to speak up against injustice and lose our quality of life; we can get too busy to pay attention to our children and they can lose their way; we can refuse to change our lives to address climate change and we can lose our planet. There will come a time when, like the foolish bridesmaids, we run out of oil if we do not enter into life as a creator as opposed to an entitled, passive recipient. If Jesus were describing the world the way it is instead of the way it could be, he could have told a story of the 5 foolish bridesmaids who ran out of oil, formed a gang, attacked the others and stole their oil so they could have the privilege of guiding the bridegroom into the celebration and getting in themselves. But we know (don’t we?) that even if we did that, had some fancy BMW ready to take the bridegroom to the wedding, we would not be satisfied nor want to stay very long because getting into the wedding is not as satisfying as getting another badge to wear on our sleeve or another award to put on our resume or another million dollars to put in our account. I could go on and on about how we have created a system for the elites to take an unfair share from everyone else so we can have wealth and power.
The kingdom of God is about wanting to live in a relationship that thrives because of peacemaking, has a future because of hopefulness, experiences fullness because of joy, and is constantly growing in love. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of us? To act justly, to love kindness/mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” Just getting into the party by depending on someone else’s oil is like Donald Trump who knew how to get into the White House but was not prepared to be president. There is no oil here, no peacemaking, no foundation for hope, no joy in belonging, and no love for building community.
People without oil can see there is a problem, can understand that something has to be done about it and know what to do today – have a revolution, destroy what came before. I too believe big change needs to happen and some ways of doing things need to be destroyed, but the crucial question is then what do you do tomorrow and the day after that? If you run out of oil on the first day/task of change, you will only end up with destruction and living amongst the rubble. I am still living and wrestling with the Word of God here because I believe it shapes the way I live and the decisions I make. I believe this is necessary for life to be saved/continue to evolve to the next level of consciousness. Amazing grace is recognizing that every day we are called to step up in some way; every day the door to the celebration is still open to us. Listen to the word of God. And when I say listen, I mean listen like my mother said it to me: “You had better listen to me!” You know what I mean.
PS. I am on holiday until December 15, so please post but don’t expect a reply until then.