Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
PREPARE FOR DELAY
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Bruce K Modahl
1“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But 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.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
“Jesus is the one who joins fools in the darkness, on the wrong side of locked doors.”
Diagnosis: Until Kingdom Come
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): No Excuses
In the prior chapter Jesus interrupted his disciples’ reverie over the grandeur of the temple. He told them soon and very soon not one stone in the temple will be left upon another. He told them about the end of the age, persecutions to come, and the coming of the Son of Man. The disciples wanted to know when this was going to happen. Jesus told them, “No one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus then told his disciples three parables to help them learn how to wait. We have the second of the three in this day’s Gospel reading. It is easy to find fault with the story. Jesus says the moral of the story is to keep awake. But all ten bridesmaids fell asleep. The five who ran out of oil were so excited to be in the wedding that they ran out on a midnight shopping trip. They had to wake some shop owners to sell them oil. And then they hustled back to the wedding venue. The problem is they ran out of oil. Facts are facts and all excuses aside; they were not properly prepared.
Step 2: Advance Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Detached from the Promise
They were not prepared for delay. The gospel choir sings, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king.” We’ve been praying, “Come, Lord Jesus” up to three times a day, every day of our lives. We beseech God again and again, “Thy kingdom come.” And we are still waiting. The fact is we live each day detached from God’s promise. Jesus came proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” But for us, “kingdom come” is another way of saying “never.”
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): The Day of Reckoning
The five bridesmaids restocked their oil supply and ran to the door of the wedding festivities. They found the door locked. The master of the banquet peered out at them and said, “I do not know you.” The bridesmaids were locked out of the party and stranded in the darkness.
Prognosis: The End is Where We Start From (T.S. Eliot)
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Hope in the Bridegroom
In the Lutheran Book of Worship prayer of day, we say, “Lord, when the day of wrath comes, we have no hope except in your grace.” In the Dies Irae from the Requiem, is this verse, “Remember, faithful Jesus, because I am the cause of your journey: do not lose me on that day. Thou hast sat down as one wearied seeking me, thou hast redeemed me having suffered the Cross: so much labor, let it not be lost.”
It will not be lost.
Jesus is the one who joins fools in the darkness, on the wrong side of locked doors. Now, when God the Father, the Lord of the parable, looks out, he says to the foolish bridesmaids, “I don’t know you.” Then God spots the Son standing in the midst of the fools. “But I do know you,” he says. “How did you get out there?” Jesus shows them his hands and side. What great acts of love and mercy for the locked out. “Come in my boy,” God the Father says. “They’re with me,” Jesus replies as he gives a nod toward the foolish bridesmaids. “You come too,” says God the Father.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Gifts from God’s Future
Our hope in Christ comes to life in the seam between what is and what will be. In this seam the Holy Spirit works faith in us and nurtures it. The Spirit does so by baptism, the Lord’s Supper, evangelical preaching, and the conversation and consolation of the people of God. These are gifts to us from the future God has prepared. God’s spirit works through these to empower us to live from the future God is even now bringing upon us.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): The Ministry of Reconciliation
For this section I’m taking my cue from Richard Lischer’s book The End of Words. Lischer’s book is about preaching. The end he has in mind is the ending God has constructed for the consummation of history. Resurrection from the dead is the promise of the kingdom of God. This becomes the starting point for preaching as it was for Jesus in his inaugural sermon. We hear descriptions of God’s new creation from Isaiah, Micah, and Revelation. Our starting point is a step beyond death’s boundary. If this is the place from which we preach, it is also the place from which we live. Lischer asserts that in our preaching we speak into existence a new reality. If so, then let us, by all means, take up residence in this new reality, saintly sinners that we are.Where Lischer finds the animating principle for preaching is also the place we find the animating principle for living. Lischer finds it in what he calls the thesis sentence of the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.”
God reconciles us to himself. God in Christ reconciles us to one another. Through Christ, human beings are reconciled with themselves. All of our good works flow, as a matter of course, from the work of reconciliation God in Christ has entrusted to us.
There is nothing easy about the work of reconciliation. The cross before us tells us that.