On your way to church today…what were you thinking about? Were you thinking about
something in your life that’s been challenging you, like…Mending a broken relationship?
Breaking a bad, old habit? Making time to spend with someone you love?
Here’s what I’m thinking: I’m pretty sure no one, on our way here today, was thinking: I
really hope we hear another parable from Jesus!
Last Sunday, we caught a break from those parables. Bishop Phoebe preached on the
Beatitudes, part of what people have come to call the Sermon on the Mount. But today, it’s
another parable, one about ten bridesmaids. It’s part of another sermon Jesus gave on another
mountain. But this sermon, this parable was just for his disciples.
Our parable today is about the “end of the age,” the end times. Some Christians think
that’s where we are in 2023. We are near the end of the season after Pentecost. In just three
weeks, the Thanksgiving holiday will be over, and Advent will begin.
Today, we actually get a taste of one of the themes of Advent. It’s also the Boy Scout
motto: Be prepared. In a 1908 handbook, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts,
wrote that being prepared meant “You are always in a state of readiness, in mind and body, to do
your duty.” Jesus gives us a different definition.
He begins today’s Gospel passage with this words: “Then, the kingdom of heaven will be
like this” (Matthew 25:1). We hear how, at the end of time, some won’t be ready. We all need to
be prepared. “Stay awake,” Jesus tells us in today’s final verse (25:13).
Here’s some local news: the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi is electing a new bishop.
The Rector of St. George’s, Germantown, the Rev. Dr. Dorothy Sanders Wells, is one of the
candidates. Dorothy occasionally publishes articles about the Sunday lessons. She starts her
reflection on today’s parable with a song: Keep your lamps trimmed and burning (sung three
times)…the time is drawing nigh. Then, Dorothy writes:
“For the enslaved people from whom (that) spiritual (hymn)…originated…Jesus’ parable
of the wise and foolish bridesmaids must have brought more comfort than concern. In their
labor, in their struggle, in their abject poverty, it must have been easy to identify with the
bridesmaids, who, with oil-lit lamps, were ready for (Jesus)…
“Surely (Jesus) would see them and save them. Surely the…coming of God’s kingdom
would signify the day on which the (old) world order would be replaced by a (new) world order
in which…peace and justice would be brought to God’s people. On that day, surely their would
be balm for…troubled souls, healing for broken bodies and spirits, comfort in…mourning,
freedom from…bondage” (Christian Century, 11/6/23).
Today’s parable is just for Jesus’ disciples…including us. So…how wise have you or I
been lately? Do we have enough oil in our lamps? If not, where can we get more?
Today, I think we also caught a break - in the choices given to us for Bible lessons. While
we always hear the last two appointed lessons, the Epistle and the Gospel, today we have other
lessons, from which I chose the two we just heard. I chose the two from the book of Wisdom.
Let me tell you why.
I could have chosen for us to hear the regular lessons from Amos and the Psalms.
Instead, I decided it was time to hear two irregular ones. The first lesson we heard was from a
book you won’t find in every Bible: the Wisdom of Solomon. Written around a century before
Jesus was born, Wisdom is one of the books making up the Apocrypha.
The eighteen books of the Apocrypha aren’t canonical. They are not part of Holy
Scripture’s official canon. However, the Apocrypha is included in Catholic, Orthodox and some
Protestant bibles, including bibles authorized for use in the Episcopal Church. I chose these
readings from Wisdom - both from Chapter 6 - because today’s parable is about the difference
between being foolish and being wise. Today, it’s all about wisdom. Wisdom opens us to a real
relationship with others and with the world around us.
Notice that the first reading from Wisdom doesn’t have any masculine pronouns.
Wisdom - the Greek word is sophia - is referred to with no less than thirteen feminine pronouns
in the first lesson - and three more in the second. We might think that, for the writer of this
Biblical book, being wise - the ability to think and act with knowledge, experience,
understanding, good sense, insight…we might think wisdom is…feminine. In any event, this
wisdom figure - this sophia - has much to teach anyone in authority.
Today, we’re told to seek and find wisdom. “She hastens to make herself known to those
who desire her,” we heard in our first lesson, “and one who is vigilant on her account will soon
be free of care” (6:13-14). “The beginning of wisdom,” we heard in our second lesson, “is the
true desire to receive teaching, and a longing to be taught comes from a love of her; the one who
loves her will keep her laws” (6:17-18). So…what are some of wisdom’s laws? I’ll suggest three
from my experience. (Maybe from yours, too.)
1. We tend to procrastinate. We put off ‘til tomorrow what we don’t want to do - or to
deal with - today. We think we can wait - to mend that broken relationship, to end that bad, old
habit, to make more time for the ones we love. But remember: We do not have all the time in
the world. Someday, it will be too late.
2. We can’t share being prepared. We cannot lend someone oil for their lamp of
awareness, nor can someone share theirs with us. People can’t help other people stay awake.
Today, we hear Jesus calling us to wake up to “what’s up” - and stay there. Only you or I can
answer that call. Staying spiritually awake is a choice to make, for all of us.
3. We need to learn to love wisdom. There will always be Christians who think that the
end is near, that they’ll soon be raptured - which, by the way, is found nowhere in the Bible.
Some Christians “focus on the end times to the neglect of this time, this world. That is not the
point,” says one pastor. “The point is living expectantly and hopefully” (John Buchanan,
Feasting On The Word, p. 286). Like in Advent.
Because, sisters and brothers…
Soon this journey will be over (3x), the time is drawing nigh.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
Priest in Charge
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
1508 South White Station Road
Memphis TN 38117