The Big One is Coming
(Matthew 25: 1-13)
When Teresa and I told her mother that we were moving to Washington State she said she could never live there because of all the earthquakes. I gently reminded her that Texas and Mother Nature had more ways to kill you than I could count, such as hurricanes, tornados, searing heat, bone-numbing cold, frog choking rainstorms, and poisonous snakes and insects just to mention a few. To me, a little rocking and rolling seemed minor in comparison but we assured her we’d be prepared. We’ve been here fifteen years now and have not felt so much as a mild jiggle. And yet, after each minor quake I think about my preparedness. I do have an emergency box down in the garage with a few things in it but no doubt nowhere nearly what we probably need to last more than a couple of days. We are constantly reminded that the Big One is coming, we just don’t know the date or the time. Some of us will be ready, and shame on those of us who are not. We’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. We’ve been warned.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. He’s talking about the day of his return. Now to fully understand this, you have to put it into context by going back to the beginning of chapter 24. Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives when the disciples came to him privately and asked when all these things would happen that would point to his return. He tells them of the beginning of troubles and the many who will come in His name to deceive them. He warns of the wars between nations, the famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. He says that all of these things are just the beginning of what’s to come. He tells them that the one who endures to the end will be delivered. The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. He talks of the great suffering and the false christs and false prophets that will appear offering great signs and wonders in order to deceive as many of those whom God has chosen. He then talks about the coming of the Human One foreshadowed by the sun and moon refusing to shine, the stars falling from the sky, and other planets and heavenly bodies being shaken. At that time the Human One will appear in the sky and his angels will announce his coming with the sound of a great trumpet and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other.
At this point Jesus knows what they are thinking. But when will this happen? Tell us so we can be ready. Jesus knows that if he tells them, and ultimately us, the exact day and time, we’ll put off getting ready until the very end. He says: But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. He reminds the disciples of the time of Noah. God had told Noah a great flood was coming but did not tell him when, but nevertheless Noah did as he was told and began building the ark and making preparations to be ready when the rains came. People scoffed at Noah and made fun of what they considered his folly. They partied right up until the day Noah entered the ark and by then it was too late. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. Jesus told them that the coming of the Human One would be like that.
Now that he has their undivided attention, he tells them a parable which was a teaching tool that was common for the time in conveying an idea or lesson. He says: At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. At this point, the modern-day reader may already be wondering about bridesmaids carrying lamps when we think about our own weddings. During this time in history the Jewish wedding tradition was that wedding celebrations went on for days and sometimes lasting a week so there were a lot of moving parts. On the wedding day the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house for the ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony the bride and groom, along with a great procession, would return to the groom’s house where a great feast would take place with all the honored guests. This procession usually took place after the sun went down so it was the responsibility of the bridesmaids to light the way with oil lamps due to the fact there was no city street lighting. They would gather together waiting for the groom to come get them at the appointed time. Jesus relates that five of the bridesmaids were wise, and that the other five were foolish. He says: The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.” Jesus says that all the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But when the foolish bridesmaids realized their mistake, they asked the wise bridesmaids for some of their oil. The wise bridesmaids replied: No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. They told the foolish bridesmaids to go to the one who sells lamp oil and buy their own. But while they were gone to buy oil the groom came and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast and the door was shut. The foolish bridesmaids returned and said, Lord, lord, open the door for us. But he replied, I tell you the truth, I don’t know you. Jesus then said to the disciples: Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
At first blush, this seems kind of harsh. Jesus doesn’t say that the five foolish bridesmaids weren’t believers. Nothing in the parable indicates they weren’t. They, like us, have been invited to the wedding. They just weren’t prepared, and it was nobody’s fault but theirs. This parable of the delayed groom in coming is the occasion for Jesus repeating his key theme of being ready and keeping alert, and the bridesmaids being caught without oil explains the need for wisdom, the wisdom that comes from being prepared for the day that is coming. I think what stings here is that when the foolish bridesmaids showed up at the door asking to be let in the Lord replied: “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” We can assume for the purposes of this parable that these bridesmaids were believers but that they had done nothing with their faith that Jesus was aware of. They were preoccupied with other less important earthly things. The lesson is that we and we alone are the ones who are responsible for our own spiritual condition. Once we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior it is our responsibility to continually develop our spirituality. As demonstrated by the foolish bridesmaids, spiritual preparation cannot be bought or borrowed at the last minute. You either have it or you don’t. So, you have to ask yourself, when the Big One comes to take his people to heaven when you least expect it, will you be ready, or will you be left out in the dark on the wrong side of the door?
Let us pray.
Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me King of my heart; Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me never to part. Yes, blessed Savior how we need to feel your presence in our lives. We want it to be so complete that you will know us as your beloved and faithful servants when the time comes. Move us through your Spirit to be the people who most represent your presence here in your kingdom. Keep us mindful of the need to constantly develop our spirituality so that we will be ready, willing, and able to serve you without question or reservation in all things, great and small. May the light of your love shine brightly in all that we do. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.