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23 Pentecost - Matthew 25:1-13

In the dark middle of a long tunnel between the beginning of the pandemic and an end we cannot yet see, on the heels of an agonizing presidential election, at the beginning

of our annual stewardship season in a wobbly economy, the gospel gives us an episode of Mean Girls.

There were ten virgins, Jesus said, so the translators changed it to bridesmaids in case the kids are listening..

There was a 50-50 split and a delayed outcome.

The five wise virgins, who were members of your political party, lugged along extra oil.

The five foolish virgins, obviously from the other party, did not.

All ten were waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom at the house he has prepared

for his bride, to welcome the newlyweds and get the party started.

As Southern Californians know, delays are always possible around Las Virgenes.

Day slipped into evening into night.

All of them, wise and foolish alike, fell asleep, which has been a theme of recent stories:

Jesus has been encouraging his disciples, who are sleepwalking through life and will soon fall asleep on him as he prays in Gethsemane, to keep awake.

The Son of Man comes like a thief in the night, or a pandemic, or a diagnosis, or a phone

call that changes your life, or a shout at midnight.

He's here!

Have you ever been groggy and giddy at the same time, woken up suddenly in the

middle of the night by a dream or a ring tone or a touch or an idea?

From deep slumber, even good news starts scary when it startles you.

So now we have ten half-awake teenage girls scrambling to light their tiki torches quickly in the dead of night.

Hashtag Panic at the Disco.

The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out!'

But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'

And because they are foolish, they listen to this cruel advice and head to the 7-11 which

won't open in their village for another two thousand years.

They end up shut out of the party, the tragic outcome of a cautionary tale.

It didn't have to be this way.

What went wrong?

The obvious answer, which seems to make the most sense to Matthew, is that some

people aren't sufficiently prepared to meet their Messiah.

You have to bring your own oil to the party, and given Matthew's fondness for allegories, oil has to mean something else.

The Catholic commentary explains that oil is works of love and mercy.

The Protestant commentary argues that oil is faith.

Martin Luther would reverse the order but agree with both, because faith and good works are distinct but ultimately inseparable.

If you really have faith, it inevitably shines in the way you live; if there's no shine, is

there really any faith there?

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to

your Father in heaven, Jesus preached in his first sermon, then noted; Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven... which loops us back into the church's tired old debate about faith or works—trust or action—which is like arguing about which parent made the baby.

What if the real problem is something else?

What if the real problem is the panic that ensues when all ten virgins are foolish?

Do they really need more oil?

Is the premise that there will not be enough actually true?

Do they know who the bridegroom is?

John calls him the light of the world.