Joshua 24: 1-3, 14-25
Psalm 78: 1-7
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13
The foolish said to the wise,
“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”
But the wise replied,
“No! there will not be enough for you and for us;
you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” -Matthew 25: 8 – 9
Last week in ZOOM Sunday School, we were reading in John chapter 13 about Jesus tenderly washing the feet of his disciples. The question came up, Why is that story only found in John’s gospel ? It seems to be so important, when Jesus commands the disciples to do the same for one another, and to love one another. Why are the four gospels so different from each other ? They all share some things in common with each other, but each one also includes a number of stories and sayings that are unique to itself.
Since Advent, last Fall, we have read a lot of Matthew’s gospel. This gospel has a peculiar kind of Jewish focus, with emphasis on ways that Jesus’ life, ministry, and sacrificial death fulfill the ancient Jewish prophecies. And, as I pointed out in a sermon, recently, sometimes in Matthew (for example, Matthew 22:1-13), we hear stories or parables from Jesus that have a more bitter, un-godly tinge to them.
This week’s gospel lesson is that story of the wise and the foolish virgins, Matthew 25:1-13. This story has some themes in common with stories Jesus told in Luke’s gospel (21:6-36), and with warnings that Jesus gives in various parts of John’s gospel, but its tone is much more stark than the others. Jesus is talking to the crowds in Jerusalem about destruction which would take place in the future, and how faithful people should prepare themselves to be on God’s side when all things get sorted-out. Over the centuries, preachers have interpreted the “oil” for the lamps as the grace which God imparts to His people.
So, on the surface of the story Jesus told, it appears that the ‘wise virgins’ are being harsh toward the ‘foolish virgins.’ Does Jesus mean that God’s prepared people should be cold and rude to the unprepared people around us ? Is it right for us to tell them, “Go, get your own oil !”
The real-world truth is, there is no substitute for each person getting grace directly from God. A Christian may graciously reach out to some desperate soul in an attempt to help them be ‘saved,’ but the One who ‘saves’ is not the Christian: rather, it is the Christ. He is the “Oil Dealer,” the only One Who can supply what you need. The best that a Christian can do is to effectively connect the other person to the heavenly “Oil Dealer,” the God of Grace.
The old song put it this way:
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning !
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray !
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning,
Keep me burning ‘til the break of day !
So here we are, in the wake of a national election, wondering how things will be sorted-out. What does the future hold for our nation, for our Commonwealth, for our community ? We Christians are supposed to be the ‘wise virgins,’ un-stained by the world, spiritually prepared to go into the Bridegroom’s house whenever the moment may come. How are we doing ? Are we as nervous and up-shook as the worldly people around us ? Or are we well-oiled and serene, confident that the Oil Dealer has supplied our need ?
In our local congregation, we are also at a moment of decisions, with our Annual Meeting coming, this Sunday. With the onset of the Corona Virus Disease- 2019, we ‘punted’ our Annual Meeting from the third Sunday in May to the second Sunday in November. Our meeting this week will lack some of the trappings we have come to expect: everyone gathered, close together, in one room; the remnants of a pleasant little meal in our bellies; the satisfaction of being face-to-face with our church’s elected leaders, to get answers to questions and to make fresh suggestions; and more. We will be missing some saints who cannot be among us in the flesh at this time. And it’s November, for heaven’s sake, not May! Talk about a time change ! This is ridiculous !
All the while, the Bridegroom is still on His way, to open the door and lead us into the wedding banquet. How can we ever be ready ?
Let us pray for God to give more grace.
... [w]e will be with the Lord forever.
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
- 1 Thessalonians 4: 17 – 18