I’m late with this week’s Living Sunday School post (using the lectionary readings from November 8, 2020). I was hanging out with my 2 year old granddaughter (ok, and my son, too) so I know you’ll understand. But I didn’t want to skip it all together because this particular parable teaches us so much about how to live Sunday School! It offers us encouragement and hope in this time of great uncertainty.
So, grab your coffee and perhaps a snack and let’s chat.
Throughout the gospel as Matthew tells it, Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like” and “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus speaks in present tense, revealing the idea that we are already to live as citizens of God’s kingdom in this world, here and now, in all circumstances.
In the parable of the ten maidens (or bridesmaids or virgins depending on the translation you are reading, meaning someone, who like a bridesmaid, waits to usher in the groom to the wedding, a metaphor often used to describe Jesus’ second coming to bring the new heaven and new earth into being) Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of Heaven will be like”. Future tense, with a pre-condition ‘then’.
Therefore (always pay attention to transition words in scripture), to see the wisdom of this parable, we need to know what Jesus says before it1.
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up2: Jesus and the disciples have just left the Temple and Jesus has spoken to them about the temporary nature of this world – buildings and leaders and traditions and ways of thinking. He tells them,
- “beware that no one leads you astray” and
- “because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” and
- “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” and
- “Therefore (transition word!) you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
AND THEN, he tells them what it will be like when this unexpected time comes: there will be those who are ready and those who are not.
So what does it mean to be ready? The answer is what Jesus has spent the previous three years teaching – that we live every day, here and now, to the best of our ability with God’s help as citizens of God’s kingdom: Loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves as God loves. The answer to being ready is to work at seeing the world we live in through the eyes of compassion as Jesus sees.
The wise maidens were prepared for the wait to be longer than they expected. They brought along extra oil for their lamps, meaning they were intentional about refilling their spiritual cups so their lives shine brightly with what they say they believe. In contrast, the foolish maidens expected that the supply they had at one point in their life was sufficient. To put it in modern ideas, they expected that the Bible stories they learned as children, or their parents’ or grandparents’ faith, or showing up at church on Christmas and Easter would be sufficient to sustain their faith so that they are equipped to live what they say they believe.
(Alright, let me take a side-step to clarify here – I am in no way saying we earn God’s grace and salvation by going to church or by doing anything. We don’t and we can’t. God’s grace is so much bigger than anything we can imagine and we, as humans, can’t decide who’s got “enough” faith to be saved because that’s not how God’s grace works.)
The wisdom of this parable is to help us understand that walking with Jesus is a lifestyle in which we participate in the answer to the prayer “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” It isn’t a checklist of certain behaviors that earns us a “get into heaven” pass sometime in the “no one knows the day or time” future.
Being ready for God to show up means we cultivate our awareness of God in all people and places and time because we know that God is always and already present. Keeping our lamps filled means we understand that our ongoing relationship with God is our source of true life here and now and we regularly work at that relationship so we can shine God’s love into the darkness of this world.
When the wise bridesmaids refuse to share it isn’t because they are selfish but because they understand that relationships can’t be borrowed or lent, they have to be cultivated and lived.
Spend time every day preparing your lamp to shine at its brightest with the fuel of God’s love. Together with God we can live on earth as it is in heaven, we can be a Living Sunday School.
1Remember that the chapter and verse designations are to help us find specific things in Scripture and were added long after the stories, poems, and letters were first written. We can’t let them cause us to see scripture in segments rather than an all encompassing story.
2When you can, make time to read Matthew 21-25 all in one sitting. Oh, yeah, and for those who don’t know this is a quote from The Princes Bride, the best movie ever.