I don’t know about you, but those words, “I never knew you,” send a chill up my spine. Certainly when I stand before Jesus those are not the words I want to here. So is it the point that we feel threatened by this parable of judgment? Let’s see…
Matthew clearly tells this story of the ten bridesmaids as an allegory. The bridegroom is obviously Jesus, and the great wedding banquet to which he is headed is obviously the kingdom of heaven—the consummation of God’s hopes and dreams for the whole creation.
The wise bridesmaids are those disciples of Jesus who have been watchful, resourceful, prepared for the bridegroom to come. The foolish bridesmaids are those disciples of Jesus who are distracted, careless, unfocused, unexpectant.
The point of the story is how it is possible as the followers of Jesus, to miss the point. When the time for action arrives, instead of being ready, we are confused, ill-equipped, groping around in the dark. By the time we get our act together, the moment is gone, the door is closed, the bridegroom is off to the party without us.
This is a day for us to assess whether or not we are ready; whether or not our actions match our words; whether we are participating in the transformation of the world or not; whether or not we are getting the point.
The moment of truth in the story of the bridesmaids comes dramatically
At midnight comes the cry—The bridegroom comes!
Bring your lamps!
Come out to meet him!
The bridegroom comes! God, known to us in Jesus Christ, comes! The bridegroom—the one who loves us, the companion, the faithful one. Love is at the door. The bridegroom is ready to become one with the bride. God is ready to become one with the world.
Come out to meet him! Come out. Leave the safety of the house. Go out into the night and lead his way into the world.
How important it is that all this takes place at night. Christ comes. At night. The time comes for action. At night. Act now. At night.
“But why not in the day?” the foolish bridesmaids ask. Why not during the day? Then we wouldn’t even need these silly lamps—hey, this oil costs money, don’t you know? And money doesn’t grow on trees! (at least that is what my parents taught me). Couldn’t you wait to make us act when it doesn’t cost so much?
And there goes the point, so fast it is easy to miss.
To be in relationship with God. To live into the love that is already ours as a gift. To act as a follower of this love. It all costs. Spiritual costs, of course, of course, we say. Take the time to worship, to pray, what we call “the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”
But real, tangible, costs, too—because God wants to be in relationship with the world—God wants to marry us, not just our conscience or our souls. This is a very material God who wants the world transformed, not just everyone to think nice thoughts and feel good feelings—God wants hold of the stuff of life. God wants us to act now with the oil of our lives, pay the cost, be prepared, focused.
And so in this stewardship season I have to say that there is nothing distasteful or unspiritual about the church asking us to commit ourselves monetarily. We should not be embarrassed or feel the least bit reluctant to say that how we fill out a pledge form is a measure of how prepared we are for God to be in our lives—for God to transform our lives and use us in and as the church to transform the world.
Am I willing to feel the cost of that transformation? Am I willing to say “Yes” to God with the real important stuff of my life—what the Bible calls “the first fruits”—or do I have only leftovers to give that cost me virtually nothing?
Christianity is the most worldly of religions. The creation, we believe, was not, is not, a mistake. God does not want to be rid of it. God wants to redeem it. You and me and all the stuff of our lives—where we really live—what is really at the heart of our lives—our time, our talents, our possessions, and, most of all, our God-given ability to love.
The cry comes at midnight—when we’re anxious, fearful, when our guard is up and our instinct is to keep the door locked and the money protected.
At midnight comes the cry—Arise!
Come out and meet the bridegroom!
What do we do?
Do we live as if love matters, as if we know that our participation in that love changes the world. Do we ask somebody else to do it for us? Do we get distracted by our anxieties, fears, and that voice inside us that says, “This is mine, you can’t have it!”
Or do I give to God as God has given to me? Do I come out into the night with the costly oil in my lamp? Do I take my place in the procession of the bridegroom to meet his bride, as God uses me and us to change the world?
And here is the real point of the story—not a threat but a proclamation of the good but challenging news that God’s lamp which lights this world burns only with the oil of our lives.