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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

November 9, 2014

 On Time for Life

Psalm 78:1-7:Matthew 25:1-13

             Today we turn to another of Jesus’ powerful parables on the kingdom of heaven. It is a parable that appears only in Matthew’s Gospel. And let’s be candid about this parable – it is a parable of judgment. The wise bridesmaids, the ones who brought their flasks of oil to the feast, enjoy the great wedding banquet when the bridegroom finally arrives. The foolish ones are shut out, and they miss the feast completely.

             It is altogether fitting, of course, that when Jesus offers a parable of judgment, that He returns to another wedding story. Few human events are more weighted and as powerful emotionally and relationally as weddings. Families still invest heavily in them – they give their time, their energy, their creativity, their money, their hearts – in the marriage of a beloved child. And because weddings are so emotionally loaded, weddings are fragile events, and the strongest of families can be tested and tried by everything attached to them. People are stretched thin by all the events and planning and people who are part of a wedding. That is why along with great joy, there are often tears at weddings, and deep feelings of all kinds that come to the surface from places deep down inside of us.

             So with His own life coming to a close, and with judgment very much on His mind, it is fitting that Jesus chose this most human and emotionally-loaded event to speak still again about the kingdom of heaven.

             The kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to wait for the bridegroom to appear, so the great wedding banquet could commence. Not all parables Jesus told are allegorical, but this one almost certainly is. Almost all Biblical scholars agree on this. The wedding banquet was one of Jesus’ favorite images for the kingdom of heaven, where Jesus spoke of a great feast or eschatological banquet at the close of the age. And the bridegroom is Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Savior of the world.

             By the time Matthew writes his Gospel, Jesus, in the minds and hearts of most first-century believers, was delayed in His promised return. The fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote their Gospels at all was a sign of that delay, which forced these early witnesses to write down these words and events of Jesus’ life, so they would not be lost as those early followers were dying. The early Church thought Jesus’ return was imminent – something that would happen anytime, at any moment – and they learn over time that they have been mistaken about timing – something all of us often do, and something human beings do at their own peril.

             The New Testament offers two words for time. We have spoken of this before. One is chronos – we get the word chronology from it. It means the normal, inevitable passing or progression of time – the seconds that give way to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. But time does not always work that way, does it? Not all time is equal, is it? Some moments stand out, some are life-changing. This is spoken of by the Greeks as kairos – time that is filled with life-changing, life-shattering significance. The birth of a child can be a kairos moment, so can be the death of a parent or a spouse or even a dear friend. A conversation that forever shifts the ground under you can be a kairos moment. Falling in love can be a kairos moment. Going to a basketball game with Connie Harrison nearly ten years ago was such a moment for both of us, though neither of us saw it coming. We all have such moments in time. Another meaning for kairos time is opportunity, and Galatians tells us that Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” Now we wait for when Jesus shall come again, and for that time when time shall be no more.

             When the bridegroom was delayed in Jesus’ parable, all ten bridesmaids grew drowsy and slept. But at midnight the kairos moment came. “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” When he arrived, the foolish bridesmaids tried to borrow oil from the wise ones, the ones who had prepared for the delay. But apparently, there are some things that you cannot borrow, that you have to procure for yourself. For in Jesus’ parable of judgment, the foolish bridesmaids must go to the dealers to buy some, and while they are gone, the banquet starts without them, and the door is shut. They miss the whole wedding feast.

             Jesus is lovingly warning us that you can miss out completely on His coming. He is lovingly warning us that you can miss out on life. You can show up too late to the party, and miss it completely. Because life is all about knowing what time it is. “Wisdom is knowing what time it is in your life,” said Sam Keen, in his 1970 book, To A Dancing God. Foolishness is thinking you have all the time in the world. Foolishness is not being prepared or ready when your own kairos moment comes, and missing it completely.

             In Jesus’ parable, the wise bridesmaids were the ones who were prepared for the delay. All ten of them were ready, if the bridegroom had come early, or at what they thought was “on time,” none of them would have missed it. But only the wise maidens were ready for the delay. They were ready not only for the delight of his coming, but also for disappointment and the deferral of their dreams. Only they brought extra oil.

             There has been much debate among Biblical interpreters as to what the oil stood for in Jesus’ parable. Some have argued the Holy Spirit, while others the good works or acts of kindness and compassion that are the fruit of genuine faith. Still others see it as hope that never gives up or lets go, hope born of faith and a deep trust in God.

             I am not sure we will ever know for sure, and I am not sure it really matters. What does matter is that the five wise bridesmaids “were ready” when the bridegroom arrived. They waited and waited, and in their waiting they prepared, not just for his coming, but for his delay. They were ready not just for delight, but for disappointment as well. “Be prepared,” is the motto for the Boy Scouts of America. It is not a bad motto for all of life!

             Are you prepared? Are you ready for that time that is sure to come, when time itself will stand still? Are you ready for whatever life may bring? Jesus is telling us that His return will come at an unexpected hour, “like a thief in the night.” Our lives are like that. We never know when our soul-searching, soul-making, soul-breaking moments will come.

             What we do know is that we don’t have all the time in the world. So pray this day, this very moment, that God will make you wise in the things you will surely need, to be prepared, ready, faithful, even deep into the long night of waiting! May we be found ready – serving, hoping, praying, loving – waiting for the coming of God.

                                                                                     Amen.

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