You know that moment. That moment when you’re caught. That moment when they finally find out – Yes! He is the fraud we always knew him to be. Despite all appearances to the contrary, she is exactly like the rest of us. We all know that moment. We all know it. And we don’t like it. We don’t like it one little bit. Caught in a lie, backed into a corner of our own sloppy painting. Caught. Wrong. Down.
This amazing, complicated story coming as it does near the end of the Gospel of Matthew and therefore at the end of Jesus’ life is about exactly that. Getting caught. Being found out. Being brought up short.
Who among us has not known the experience of these bridesmaids? I mean – really – we can all imagine the embarrassment and the sense of failure that the women with no oil must have felt. But who wants to be the ones who are put on the spot to share and have their own greed highlighted and hung out for all the world to see? If we weren’t so pious – if we weren’t so conditioned to see this story of Christ’s as a direct one-to-one allegory of Jesus and those prepared to meet him and those not prepared to meet him, we might ask the question that a newcomer to faith might ask: Why are these women being so selfish? Aren’t we supposed to share? To trust? Indeed. Aren’t we?
I am usually not a big fan of dragging additional biblical texts into a sermon. I find I always have more on my hands with the appointed texts than I can handle anyway. But today I’m going to make an exception, because this nagging question about just how selfish and self-congratulatory the so-called wise bridesmaids are is made all the more poignant by the set up and placement of this text in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s Holy Week, for heaven’s sake. Jesus is being pinned up against one wall or another. Chaos is the order of the day. The enemies are sharpening their word-swords and preparing to entrap him. The executioner has been put on notice. Have the hammer and nails at the ready. Friday there’s going to be a crucifixion.
And do you know what backdrop Matthew uses to contrast Christ to the chaos that is swirling all around him? Can you remember how all these parables that we call parables of the kingdom are set up? By a question from one of the enemies closing in upon him. A lawyer, one of the Pharisees and Sadducees, tests him:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I’ll ask it again: Why are these women being so selfish?
“No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better
go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”
Well who wants a room next door to them in heaven for all eternity? Or on earth, for even a couple of days for that matter? Perhaps even more to the point: Who wants to be our neighbor when we behave that way?
Sometimes a lamp is just a lamp. Sometimes a bridegroom is just a bridegroom. Sometimes God’s people are foolish and – occasionally – every once in a while, we are wise. But always – ALWAYS – Jesus is the Christ and his life-giving word is the same:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.
With this word, Jesus loved us all the way to the cross. You might say he loved us to death. With this word, he has raised us up to a new life, a new way of seeing. With this Word of unrelenting hope, he is calling once again to us today.
We know that moment. That moment when we’re caught. That moment when they finally find out. We all know that moment. We all know it. And we don’t like it. We don’t like it one little bit.
There we stand, behind the locked door. The party is inside. That’s where all the cool kids appear to be. That’s where the bridegroom — the bridegroom who I beg you to see as just a bridegroom – that where the bridegroom is, where the wise ones are. It would appear that we – who have all had more than our share of “that moment,” are locked out forever.
And just as we begin to slump our shoulders and give in…
Just as we are about to recognize that we’ve messed it up for good this time…
Just as we realize that the veil has been lifted and everyone can see us for the
fools that we are…
Just as God and all the world become aware, there in the darkness stands Jesus. Because that’s where Jesus is. In the darkness. In the chaos. On the cross.
Open arms. Wide heart. Lover of losers. Champion of the foolish. Crucified and risen from the dead for all of us who will never get it right. Whether we are inside the banquet hall celebrating our selfish selves, or outside rubbing lamp oil into our wounds, we will never get it right except by the grace of the Crucified. He will find us: lamps ablaze or crying for oil, seated at the wedding or lost in the dark, rich or poor, old or young, anxious or self-assured, gay or straight, humble or proud. He will find us. Christ will find us. The marriage feast is waiting/the gates wide open stand. Arise, O heirs of glory/the bridegroom is at hand.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.