Sunday, 9 November 2014

Secret Bridesmaids' Business: a sermon (Matthew 25: 1 - 13)

There was an Australian play that toured a number of cities a few years ago, with the title “Secret Bridesmaids’ Business”.  Today’s lesson from Matthew’s gospel is also about some “secret bridesmaids’ business”. 

Jesus told a story about a wedding.  It must have been a big wedding because there were ten bridesmaids. 

It was at a time when bridesmaids had different tasks than they have today, because one of their jobs was to wait for the bridegroom at the head of the path to the bride’s house.  When the bridegroom and his entourage arrived, the bridesmaids would greet the groom and his mates and lead them along the path from the road to the house, singing and (if it was at night) carrying brightly-lit oil lamps.

Night fell and there was still no bridegroom.

At midnight, word came that the bridegroom and his mates were nearby, but the oil was giving out in the lamps of five of the ten bridesmaids.  They tried to borrow some from the other bridesmaids, but were told to go and buy some.  On their way back with the extra oil, the bridegroom and his entourage arrived, to be led into the wedding feast by five bridesmaids, rather than ten.  By the time the other five had returned from their oil run, the doors of the bride’s home were tightly locked.

Now, looking at all the aspects of the story, there are a lot of people who could have been criticised.
  • If this were primarily a story about consideration for the well-being of others, we could criticise the bridegroom and his friends for arriving at such an inconsiderate hour.
  • If this were primarily a story about generosity, we could criticise the five bridesmaids with plenty of oil for not sharing their oil supplies with their friends.
  • If this were primarily a story about hospitality, we could tear strips off the brides’ family for locking up the house when it was obvious that five bridesmaids – five vulnerable young women – five vulnerable young women in a culture that was very much “a man’s world” - were still outside, in the middle of the night.
Of course, Jesus told many other stories, and he made strong points about compassion, generosity, and hospitality in his stories.  But, this is a different story.
  • It is not primarily a story about consideration for the well-being of others.
  • It is not primarily a story about generosity.
  • It is not primarily a story about hospitality.
This story is a story about preparation.  “Be Prepared,” as the Scouting movement says.
  • In many ways, this story is about preparation for the realities of life in a world where individuals, let alone nations, do not regard the well-being of others as a factor in their decision-making ... but where we are called to be the people of God in that situation, nevertheless.
  • In many ways, this story is about preparation for the realities of life in a world where individuals, let alone nations, are not prepared to share their plenty with those who live with scarcity ... but where we are called to be the people of God in that situation, nevertheless.
  • In many ways, this story is about preparation for the realities of life in a world where individuals, let alone nations, are compelled by fear to tightly lock their doors, their gates, their borders ... but where we are called to be the people of God in that situation, nevertheless.
  • In many ways, this story is about preparation for the realities of life in a world all too similar to our own ... but where we are called to be the people of God in our world, nevertheless.
Jesus said, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  While this passage has been traditionally interpreted by the Christian Church as referring to Christ’s appearance at the end of human history, this passage is also relevant to those of us for whom the “Second Coming” isn’t really a theme within our beliefs.  I believe this passage can also refer to the many times we find Christ appearing to us in the needs of our neighbour.
  • We know neither the day nor the hour when we will be challenged to exercise our own gifts of compassion, generosity or hospitality.
  • We know neither the day nor the hour when we will be challenged to exercise these gifts in a setting when the movers and shakers of the community around us will regard these ancient virtues of compassion, generosity or hospitality as suspect and outdated civic vices.
This passage can also refer to the many times we find Christ appearing to us in the needs of our neighbour.

“Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

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