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Message for Sunday 8 November 2020: “Keep Your Fire Burning”

Today’s focus is Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus’ stark parable about bridesmaids and lamps. The story reveals five wise bridesmaids who were prepared with extra lamp oil, and five foolish bridesmaids who chose not to bring extra oil. The situation became serious when the arrival of the bridegroom, who became angry when he discovered that only the five wise bridesmaids with extra oil were prepared for his wedding. The other five bridesmaids had run out of oil fuel for their lamps and were left in the dark.

Prior to the bridegroom’s arrival, the foolish bridesmaids tried to get the wise five to lend them some oil. “‘No!’” was the reply from the wise bridesmaids, who rightly reminded the foolish bridesmaids that by sharing then all ten bridesmaids would be unprepared. The foolish five then went to buy oil, and when they returned to the wedding they were refused entry because they were late to the party.

The story of the foolish bridesmaids who didn’t prepare relates well to contemporary life.  People in all sorts of situations refuse to plan ahead or to take any thought about their state of readiness for challenges such as personal or natural disasters.  As to the refusal of the wise bridesmaids to share, Jesus wasn’t suggesting that simple sharing is wrong.  The moral of the story is to be prepared and not to allow unprepared people to guilt trip you into helping them when it is too late.

Jesus’s parable attacks unpreparedness as a form of laziness, apathy and irresponsibility.  The five foolish bridesmaids might have been excused if something happened beyond their control, or if there were other extenuating circumstances.  Sadly, this was not the case and the foolish bridesmaids missed the wedding banquet and were condemned.  How many people do you know if have faced similar circumstances?

The message of the bridesmaids parable seems harsh but Jesus was criticizing people who, because of their intentional attitudes and actions, refuse to prepare themselves.  And it wasn’t the responsibility of the five wise bridesmaids to bail out the foolish ones.  The problem of unpreparedness would have been compounded if the bad bridesmaids dragged down the wise with them.  Had the five wise bridesmaids shared their oil then they, too, would have been unprepared and subsequently condemned.

An issue underlying Jesus’ message is the supposed end times of human history. Jesus concluded his parable by admonishing the audience to remain awake and alert, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25: 13).  In the spirit of the parable, people who seek God can choose now to be ready for whatever happens next, either through the ending of their life or the end of humanity through the parousia, the apocalyptic return of the Christ.

Are you willing to achieve a superior state of preparedness?  Are you awake and aware so that you make wise decisions given life’s uncertainties? Do you have sufficient spiritual oil in your lamp?  Understand that being prepared doesn’t mean ignoring the present through the paralysis of worry or complacency.  Being prepared can help you feel more confident and joyful in the present because you know that you’re doing your part no matter what else happens.

Embrace living in the moment but don’t ignore the possibility of challenges or disasters facing you.  Being prepared for life means that you are neither immobilized by fear of the future nor paralyzed by past regrets.  Instead, keep your fire burning with the energizing, transforming oil of God’s presence.   –Reverend Larry Hoxey

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