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.
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.
If he has found his way to the house in the dark, can't he find you, and can't you follow him in by the sound of his voice and the light of his torch and entourage?
If you've been waiting all day and half the night for him, why would you leave now to try to find a store that won't be open?
Like so much of our behavior, like so many of our panic-stricken choices, the behavior of the virgins doesn't make sense.
They believe in scarcity.
There will not be enough oil, there will not be enough light—we have to get more.
It's the convincing lie that captures and dominates and imprisons us.
There will not be enough money, not enough time, not enough security, not enough safety not enough whatever, so we miss the point in frantic pursuit of something we think we can't live without.
Wise marketers send us scurrying: you had better go to the dealers!
What if your Dream Come True shows up and you look bad or have no flashlight?
Worrying about what we have or how we look means that we really don't know who the Bridegroom is.
The Bridegroom is God's abundant love with a human face.
He arrived in our village looking like not much and died looking worse, and he announces that we have enough already because we are enough already.
Saint Paul trims our lamps so that we can get a better look:
We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in
the world to shame the strong...so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom of God...
And how did that happen?
Five foolish women.
The first chapter of Matthew is a genealogy of Jesus, which surprisingly lists five female names—mother and grandmothers of Messiah with checkered reputations, not recognized as shining lights in God's story.
They were clever, resourceful wise women, and they were women without enough oil.
The world, if it noticed at all, would look down on them, but God chose them, God called them, and all of them helped light the way for our Bridegroom.
We are fools for the sake of Christ, Paul wrote later, unfolding for the anxious in Corinth, and in West Hills, how Christ is God flipping the script.
For his sake we do foolish things like giving offerings and showing mercy and praying to a silent sky and serving the needy who can't repay us and working for the good of others at least as much as our own self-interest in confidence that there is enough.
We love and share and bless and help.
And when we do, before we even realize it, we are already part of his party.