Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

We prepare for things we really care about; we anticipate things that are important to us. This was the point of Christ’s parable about ten bridesmaids. (Matthew 25:1-13)

People who really care about hunting make careful preparations for the season and anticipate opening day. Those who care about Green Bay Packers football look forward to game-day, plan for special food to eat, and set aside normal activities to watch them play. And, of course, weddings are events which take lots of preparation because families care about the upcoming marriage. Since I have raised three girls, I can testify first-hand that wedding plans begin in third grade for many females.

Some folks show up to things late and unprepared because they simply do not value the event enough to be ready for it. Casual hunters and fair-weather football fans go home when it gets too cold because they are not adequately prepared for the conditions. Quickie weddings happen in Las Vegas when two people are not prepared to have a marriage for a lifetime. People drop out of impromptu events when there is no fun or gets too hard. However, if they really care about it, they prepare for it, have patience through it, and persevere in it when things get tough.

The true test of authentic commitment comes when things are not easy and it takes blood, sweat, and tears to see something through. A Christian is one who professes Christ as Lord and Savior, and backs the words up with a resolve to live into their baptism; to avail themselves of Holy Communion; to plan and prepare for both personal and public worship; and to make it their aim to love God, one another, and neighbor.

There are few human events more freighted with emotion and preparation than weddings. Parents invest a lot of time, energy, resources, and love to have a meaningful wedding for their kids. There is also the potential for disaster at a wedding. Since I have done my share of weddings, I can tell you that a lot of things go sideways in the preparation process and even at the wedding itself. I have seen bridesmaids pass out, grooms forget the ring, and families fight like cats and dogs in the narthex just as the bride is ready to come down the aisle. All kinds of crazy stuff can happen with a wedding. 

At my own wedding, the bridesmaids were literally sown into their dresses by the seamstress just hours before the wedding; one of my groomsman did not show up because, I later found out, he was in jail; and, we were married on the hottest and most humid day of the year – 100 degrees – which did not go so well for a bunch of women trying to have their best ever hair day.

Yet, we got married anyway. The wedding happened because it was important to us. I think it is interesting that Jesus chose to tell a parable using a wedding to tell us what the kingdom of God is like. Weddings in Christ’s day were just as prone to mishap, maybe even more so, than weddings today.

In ancient Israel, a couple would become engaged but not set a wedding date. The groom took the time to busily prepare a home for himself and his bride to live. It might take days, or weeks, or months, even years. It is this imagery that Jesus picked up to communicate his point of being prepared for things we care about. 

No one knew when the groom would be finished with preparations. (Note: Jesus the bridegroom is busy making preparations for a great wedding feast at the end of the age when he will come back and take us to be with him forever, John 14:1-4). When the groom was ready, he left the home he had prepared and went to the bride’s house. Then, the two of them, along with their wedding party, would have a grand procession through the streets of the town, almost always after dark, and then back to the home of the groom. So, oil lamps were important to have ready and on standby.

Ten Bridesmaids by Dinah Rau, 20

Here is the parable of the bridesmaid’s setting: The groom has left his house and begun his trek through town. He might come right away, and he might not, depending on what route he takes. The bridesmaids (or virgins) have their oil lamps ready. Five of them have plenty of oil, and five of them do not. The groom took a circuitous route, so the virgins fell asleep waiting. At midnight, the groom finally showed up at the bride’s house. Five virgins were ready and five were not ready. 

The five bridesmaids without enough oil went to find or buy some more, while the five virgins with plenty of oil joined the celebration. The procession returned to the groom’s house, posthaste, before the five bridesmaids who were not part of the procession finally caught up to them at the house. They knocked on the door and expected to get in. But the door was shut and was not going to be opened. The marriage happened without them.

Bottom line of the story: The five foolish bridesmaids were not ready because they did not care enough to be prepared. This, at face value, might seem harsh. Yet, in Christ’s time, not having the oil needed for the lamps would be akin, in our day, to half the bridesmaids showing up at the wedding at the last minute in jeans and t-shirts without having done their hair and expecting to stand up with the bride. No bride or groom and their family in our culture is going to roll with that kind of behavior because it is deeply offensive.

As in all of Christ’s parables, the characters represent the people listening. The five wise and five foolish bridesmaids point to the various characters who were following Jesus. Those folks consisted of both faithful disciples of Jesus, as well as wedding crashers who were not there because they valued and respected Jesus.

Jesus told us to keep watch, because we do not know the day or the hour when he will return. So, the big question for every professing believer in Jesus is: Are you prepared?  We are to maintain constant vigilance, being always alert for Jesus to show up. It is one thing to profess Christ; it is quite another thing to live each day doing God’s will and being prepared for Jesus to return. In short, Jesus wants more than fair-weather Christians. 

We cannot assume someone else will give us oil, or simply rely on another person to have everything we need to live the Christian life. Each one of us must listen and learn from God’s Word for ourselves; cultivate a life of prayer; serve the church and the world in ways God has called us to, without relying on someone else to do the work I should be doing. 

For those whom Jesus is the most important person in their lives, you will see preparations to serve him every day. It is my personal practice to rise each morning by 5:00am. I light a candle and spend some quiet unhindered time reading Scripture, reflecting on it, and praying. Throughout the day I pause to intentionally connect with God in prayer and worship (Yes, even a Pastor must do this!). 

I get up early in the morning regardless of how I feel. I engage in spiritual disciplines even when it does not strike my fancy. I go to work and do what it takes to get myself in a position to be a blessing to others, despite the times when I am less than 100%. I do it because God has called me, and I care about that.

Let us come back to Christ’s message of the parable: We prepare for things we really care about, and we anticipate things that are important to us. For the first three hundred years of the church, believers in Jesus met in cramped places with few resources other than the Holy Spirit of God. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, everything literally changed overnight.  Emperor Constantine built St. Peter’s Basilica and instituted state-funded support for bishops. Suddenly, Christianity was cool. At this point, the church began a moral and spiritual slide into worldliness and decadence. 

It seems throughout the history of Christianity that the church flourishes most when it is under some sort of persecution or adversity. And when it is not, it flounders and lapses into worldliness. Sometimes, the primary values and goals of Christians are ensuring that we get our way through politicians, as if our hope is ultimately tied to political elections. Instead, our goal must be to live for Jesus, no matter the circumstances. In fact, the church’s faith grows more genuine when it is proven through great trials.

The return of Jesus is a future reality which needs to be constantly on our spiritual radars. Jesus wants us to watch and pray, to be prepared, because it could be today that the bridegroom shows up at our house!

Joshua 8:30-35 – Recall the Ancient Ways

One day, Joshua led the people of Israel to Mount Ebal, where he told some of his men, “Build an altar for offering sacrifices to the Lord. And use stones that have never been cut with iron tools, because that is what Moses taught in The Book of the Law.”

Joshua offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing. Then with the Israelites still watching, he copied parts of The Book of the Law of Moses onto stones.

Moses had said that everyone in Israel was to go to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where they were to be blessed. So, everyone went there, including the foreigners, the leaders, officials, and judges. Half of the people stood on one side of the valley, and half on the other side, with the priests from the Levi tribe standing in the middle with the sacred chest. Then in a loud voice, Joshua read the blessings and curses from The Book of the Law of Moses. (CEV)

The ancient Israelites were in the Promised Land. Finally! It was quite the circuitous journey to get to this point. It might have been easy to kick back and celebrate. However, Joshua, their leader, knew there was a prerequisite to jubilation. First, the tone had to be set for how they were going to live and be as the inhabitants of this land.

So, Joshua gathered the entire nation and copied God’s Law in front of them, as given to Moses from God. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Joshua read the attitudes, activities, and attributes which would bring them ongoing blessing, as well as the behaviors which would bring a curse.

Joshua’s work is paradigmatic for us. Just as Moses received the Law from God and read it to the people; and, then, did it again just before the people started their campaign to enter the land, so Joshua followed his mentor’s lead and did the same. Reminders of God’s work and faithfulness, recollecting God’s gracious commands, and renewing our vows to God are all significant and ongoing works for every generation to emulate.

Why, pray tell, must we engage in such a ritual repeatedly? For two reasons: we tend to forget the things we are supposed to remember; and performing a practice again and again helps press it into our minds and hearts. This is precisely why I am a believer in liturgical worship and following the Christian Year. The redemptive events of Jesus become more than doctrines to believe; they are grafted into the soul by the sheer repetition of practice.

Part of the reason why so many Christian evangelicals have fled the Church is that they received no catechetical instruction again and again through time honored methods of worship and instruction. So, when they left, it was as if there was nothing to leave – it was easy. With little awareness of the great inheritance they possess in the faith, many persons have scant knowledge that what they are leaving is a rich historical tradition with the very things they are searching for but never received.

Oh, my goodness, people of God, it behooves us to pass on the faith in ways which both make sense and are true to the ancient way of the commandments, our apostolic tradition, and of Christ. It will do no good to disparage history, as if it began with Billy Graham. If folks are going to walk away, let them do it with the full cognizance of what they are walking away from. I cannot say I could blame anyone for leaving an eviscerated faith that is no faith, at all.

This very blog is partly dedicated to following the Revised Common Lectionary because it is the continual cycle of following Christ daily and yearly which patiently and profoundly constructs the soul over time.

Psychology as a discipline was established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries largely because of a grand collective loss of memory amongst so many people. Psychological studies vigorously investigated the reason why this phenomenon was so ubiquitous.

It is also noteworthy that the great rise in secularism over the past few centuries before the 1800’s, found an apex at this same time with the introduction of psychology as a bona fide academic discipline. If humanity was meant for living in consistent rhythms of life and faith, then it makes sense that, when taken away, what remains is a massive societal memory loss with large implications for the individual.

We must reverse the curse of sacred memory loss and confusion of mind (Deuteronomy 28:28). We ought to recapture the mind, heart, and spirit for their intended purpose and design. We need metaphysicians who will do the important work of soul craft and bring blessings yet again to the world. There is some urgency to mentoring others in the faith, as the Apostle Paul did with his young protégé Timothy:

“You have heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, GW)

Spiritual care and connection are not optional – they are a necessity we cannot live without. A spiritual cultivation and tending of the soul have positive effects on our stress and overall well-being. Spirituality brings health and vitality to our psychosocial selves and reinforces integrity and excellence in relating to others.

So, let us not jettison the important work of tending the soul through ancient practices of breathing, reading, reflecting, contemplating, praying, worshiping, and applying the work of Christ to our world’s greatest issues and needs.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 78:1-7 – For the Next Generation

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands. (NLT)

Every generation needs to recall and renew their ancestral faith – not in a wooden or bland acceptance but through vigorous retrospection of God’s past actions applied to present life. This happens primarily through the telling and retelling of stories. Both verbal and written history play a significant role in shaping current and future generations for ongoing faith.

Discussing God and Scripture need not be forced nor awkward. Most people like talking about things important to them. I have no problem talking about the latest books I am reading, my kids and grandkids, and bacon, simply because they are such a big part of my life. Conversations about these and other subjects arise organically out of the time and attention I have given them over so many years.

One of the best ways to live into faith and pass the baton is to regularly spend time with God through consistent Bible reading, heartfelt worship, earnest prayer, ongoing fellowship, participation in service, and other opportunities to learn about God. Talking about Jesus is to be an organic thing from a heart-wellspring that loves God and ponders divine commands.

The passing along of faith needs some intentional purpose and planning. When it comes to family, we can be willing and ready to ask good questions, instead of merely barfing out information. Typically, when my girls were growing up, most of our conversations around the table would center around one question I asked. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over together. Sometimes, the question was deeply theological, and other times it was an intensely practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, and I would usually ask them to tell their “God story” or to participate with us in the question. If they were not followers of Jesus, I would ask them what they thought about him, and why, as well as tell us about their own religion.

Passing on the faith to the next generations is a sacred trust God has given to us. Embrace it within the home by talking about God and God’s Holy Word as a regular part of your everyday life, and freely converse in public, as well. The following are a few ways of impressing faith to younger generations:

  1. Train them to lead. Adults do not have to do everything. Everyone from toddlers to teenagers can be empowered to serve, if we will take up the challenge to mentor them. When my girls still lived at home, I took at least one of them everywhere I went; it made no difference what it was, whether to the grocery store, on a hospital visit, or even a church meeting. Serving is now second nature to them, part of the air they breathe.
  2. Show empathy to young persons and young families. Any old fool can criticize younger generations about their lack of involvement and how they are always on social media. The wise person will recognize they need our help, not our judgment. To have empathy for them means we recognize they are just trying to do the best they can in this crazy world we live in – a world very different than the one many of us grew up in. It is a hard world, one that is extremely competitive, requiring an offbeat energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid. And being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The needed response is not to criticize but to empathize and find ways to help.
  3. More dialogue, less monologue. Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way that we can likely reach younger generations. Dialogue will go much further than just telling others what they should believe and do. I admit I had to learn this one the hard way. Being a preacher does not always translate well at home.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself within an older generation, seriously think about taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations will mean they do not have to do everything our way. Instead, we will commit to listening for what they tell us they need to love God and build into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be a great neighbor. Again, any common curmudgeon can crank on about how messed up the world is. However, the wise person will focus on teaching, empowering, and developing young people into good neighbors who engage their local community and the world by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

Lord God Almighty, I believe. I wish for the next generations to believe in you, too. So, let my faith be full and unreserved; let it penetrate all my thoughts and ways. Let my faith be joyful, worthy of being emulated by others. Give peace and gladness to my spirit so that it may shine forth in all my conversations, whether sacred or secular. Let my faith be humble and fully surrendered to the work of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Joshua 6:1-16, 20 – Seven Times

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

So, Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So, he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So, on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!…

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so, everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. (NIV)

Today’s Old Testament lesson is the famous account of the ancient Israelites taking the city of Jericho. The Lord gave the people unusual instructions to march around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day, they were to proceed around the city seven times and then give a loud shout and the walls would come down. The Israelites followed the command to the letter and, as a result, saw an incredible work of God.

There are two words in this story that are repeated frequently: “seven” and “shout.” Seven priests with seven trumpets march around the city seven times on the seventh day. And the people were to do more than shout on the seventh day – they were to give a great big lung-filled roar together.

The number seven shows up many times in Holy Scripture. Maybe it is God’s favorite number. Whenever we see the number seven, it points to God. For example, the psalmist said:

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just. (Psalm 119:164, NLT) 

Ancient Israel took this verse literally and seriously by instituting a daily offering every day, seven times a day, of prayer and worship, spacing it out over the course of a twenty-four-hour period. The early church continued the practice, and even today many liturgical traditions still hold to the “Daily Office” which are seven distinct times in the day (and night) of intentionally connecting with God.

In our contemporary religious milieu and fragmented world, methinks we need to re-connect with the number seven. Maybe we would see God do the miraculous if we prayed with the words “seven” and “shout” as our guiding motifs. I wonder what kind of spiritual health would result from committing to intentional times of prayer seven times a day. I am curious if we followed our prayers with a great shout together of confident faith if we would see mighty divine works in ourselves, the church, and the world.

Almighty, ever-living God help us to obey you willingly and promptly. Teach us how to serve you with sincere and upright hearts in every sphere of life through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.