Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, and learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen
Although I’m sure it was unintentional, the Clergy Retreat I attended this week coincided with the Elections in the United States. It was hard not to follow what was unfolding south of the border during that time from Tuesday until Thursday morning. On another occasion, as it needs more time to think through, I want to share with you some of the reflections we focused on with the Most Rev Mark MacDonald who is the national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. That said if you had to watch the Elections unfold in the US perhaps it was best to do it in silence with worship happening three or four times a day.
We know as we get older how often we have less control over our lives in spite of our best efforts to gain the upper hand. What we sometimes take a long time to comprehend (at least it has taken me a long time) is that we aren’t meant to have control, because our lives belong to God and we are supposed to entrust everything God gives us to God. Of course, we tend to find that pretty hard to do as most of us want to be in control and figure out that is how it is meant to be.
This is not an invitation to just sit there and let life happen to us, but perhaps an encouragement to put less faith in ourselves and more trust in God. Perhaps that draws us closer to the gospel passage for today which in parable considers how wise or foolish we tend to be.
It seems that most of us live our lives sometimes being wise and sometimes being foolish. Some of us spend more of our lives being rather more foolish and a few of us spend more of our time being wise. Of course, whether we are wise or foolish is not for us to call, but some of us have helpful partners or friends who will sometimes offer us advice on where we fall on the spectrum between wise and foolish. Some of us, it has to be said rather enjoy being foolish and find it much more difficult to be wise. For we often know what it is we are supposed to do but don’t necessarily want to do it.
This is a rather laboured introduction to today’s gospel passage from Matthew where a group of ten bridesmaids (five wise and five foolish) are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. In the parable, it was their task to greet the bridegroom on his arrival at the wedding feast. The problem was, as sometimes happens at weddings, where it seems to me there can be a lot of hanging around, the bridegroom was much delayed. This was not a huge issue in itself but became one later when some of the bridesmaids ran low on oil. This was the foolish group who had not prepared as their colleagues had done by leaving the scene early to obtain extra oil in case they needed it. As the delay was long, everyone drifted off to sleep. Then suddenly there was a commotion because finally, the bridegroom was about to show up. The ill-prepared bridesmaids went to their well-prepared companions in hopes of borrowing some much-needed oil. No dice. The reasoning of the wise was that there wasn’t enough to share, so the ill-prepared group left the scene in search of more oil. And what do you know the bridegroom turned up and went into the feast accompanied by the well-prepared and the ill-prepared were left out in the cold and missed the feast.
The most important thing to remember here is that the wise recognized who the bridegroom was and wanted to be ready when he arrived. In fact, the parable is not about our good work before God or even our faith, rather it is focused on the ability to know who the bridegroom (Christ) is in our lives.
Last Sunday we examined the beatitudes and it might be that those waiting with oil in their lamps speaks to those who recognize the bridegroom. Here Jesus invites us to a life, not so much centred on all the good works of our lives, or even the depth of our faith, but instead to focus on the cross and how God can be glorified through the lives we lead.
Jesus suffered and died on the cross not because he lacked faith or had led a good life, rather because he died in obedience to God. The lives we aim to live are no different. Of course, having faith is important, doing good works likewise. But what really matters is whether we are willing to take up our cross and suffer for the sake of Christ, as he did for us and for the whole world. It is tempting to think that following the way of Christ will make our lives easier and we will face less suffering. This is often not how it works. In fact, Jesus promises those who seek to follow him misfortune and persecution, and much else besides in order to be more like him. Those who fled their home country because of their faith amongst the Chaldean and Arabic-speaking members of our congregation need no reminder of this.
When we suffer for the sake of Christ or the gospel, in whatever way that happens to us, we are not likely to be too quick to judge others. For the judgement of God rightly belongs to God and to God alone. God knows us and recognizes us individually for who we are. Grace, says one commentator, comes in the cross that shines a light (the light of Christ) so that others may not see our good works, but praise God who is active in the very heart of our lives and within our communities.
So perhaps we do well to spend less time worrying about whether we are wise or foolish, and less time wondering if we are doing good works or have sufficient faith. Let us lay this all aside and instead consider whether we are willing to take up the cross and suffer for the sake of Christ, who died on a cross to give us all new life and new hope, that others may not see our good works, but praise God who is active in the very hearts of our lives and communities. Amen