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“Wisdom, Sophia is bright, and does not grow dim, by those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them. Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your gates. Even to think about her is understanding fully grown; be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you. She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs come to meet them.” (Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-18)
“Sophia, if you are there, show yourself.” This has been my mantra as I have tried to sort out the meaning of this strange tale about ten bridesmaids. I must confess that the impish Sophia, whose playful nature inspired our forbearers to sing, dance, laugh, and play, might just be behind the creators of the lectionary’s decision to put today’s readings together. That these readings should appear, on this Sunday when I am supposed to be inspiring you to set out on the third installment of our Visioning Process, has caused me no end of consternation and grief.
Have you heard the one about the ten bridesmaids and the very late bridegroom? Well if you have heard it, can you please remind me of the punch-line, because I don’t see the point of this so-called parable. Ten bridesmaids were waiting for a bridegroom! Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five of the bridesmaids were foolish; all of them, the wise and the foolish fall asleep. Suddenly, they are awakened by a shout, “the bridegroom is almost here, come out and meet him.” The wise bridesmaids had brought along some extra oil for their lamps, the foolish bridesmaids had not. The wise bridesmaids aren’t very nice and refuse to lend any of their oil to the foolish bridesmaids, so the fools have to go off to the store to get some more oil. Long before the bridegroom arrived all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Turns out the bridegroom doesn’t know five of the bridesmaids so he shuts the door and says: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Ha, ha, ha, very funny…. I simply don’t get it. For years and years, generation upon generation, people have been telling this one, and leaving people hanging with this confusing story with a warning about the need to be prepared. Ha, ha, too bad, so sad, you’re not prepared. You don’t get to come into the party! Many of us have been hanging around the church for so long, that we’ve heard this story explained by preachers who are determined to convince us that the bridegroom is actually Jesus and that we, the people of the church are the bridesmaids who must keep awake, because we don’t know when Christ is coming back. The end is near!!! So, be prepared.
Well, I for one don’t fancy hanging out with a bunch of bridesmaids who aren’t willing to share their oil with their sisters. As for the bridegroom, people who are late really annoy me. Punctuality is a virtue! Don’t keep me waiting. Especially, if you’re going to shut me out of the party, because you were late and because of you lack respect for my time, I ran out of gas, idling on the road, waiting until after mid-night for you to finally arrive. Don’t you dare slam the door on my face, just because I went to get gas, because you kept me waiting! There’s a line in the old Billy Joel song, “Only the Good Die Young” that just about sums up my reaction to this tale of woe: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun.” I’d much rather hang outside with the foolish bridesmaids than try to party inside with the wise bridesmaids and a messiah that can’t get his act together enough to arrive on time and has the nerve to slam the door on my face, when all I was doing in the first place was wasting gas waiting for him to …. I could go on and on but you get the picture…this so-called parable makes the bridegroom look like a jerk!
So, what are we enlightened, 21st century, progressive Christians doing reading this story during worship, on a Sunday morning? The end is near!!! That’s what the doomsayers proclaim! The end is near, you do not know the day or the hour. Be prepared! Prepared for what? Prepared for Jesus to come riding in on a white horse and lead us in the battle of Armageddon? Or prepared to be beamed up in the rapture as one of the chosen few.
We have seen images of the vast cosmos, and plumbed the depths of the earth. We know there is no Heaven up there and there is no Hell down there. Are we really still after all we have learned about what it means to be human, are we really still expecting the End Times? “Beam me up Scottie, I’m ready, I’m prepared. Beam me up!” Is this the punch line? I hope not.
This week I have listened as “good Christian folk” have defended a pedophile by insisting that molesting a 14 year-old-girl isn’t such a big deal not if you look to the Bible. Listen to what a fellow Christian had to say about “Good old, Judge Moore”, I’m going to quote it word for word, so that there is no misunderstanding. Keep awake, listen up, I quote the words spoken in defense of the molestation of a 14 year old girl:
“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Who among us wants to be associated with this kind of Christian? The way we talk about the bible matters. Idle talk about the End Times and Jesus’ return, have caused enough problems in the world. Biblical literalism and Christian Fundamentalism have done enough damage to our planet and to generations of Earth’s inhabitants. Evangelicals in the United States are among the biggest supporters of the orange fellow who has his finger on the buttons that could thrust us into an Armageddon of our own making. Christian fundamentalists are telling our story in ways that, well let’s just say, “Jesus wept!”
So, let’s get real. The best biblical scholarship that I could find on the subject of this so-called parable, insists that Jesus didn’t tell this story. This story does not make any sense when stacked up alongside of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This story only makes sense when you consider the plight of the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew. Living at the end of the first century some 50 to 70 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew wrote this story to the people of his community who were longing for someone, anyone to come along and save them from the persecution of the Roman Empire. This story makes sense when you consider their plight, matched with their religious longings, and their primitive understanding of the Cosmos.
It is long past time for those of us who live in the 21st century to open our minds to the wisdom of the ages that have transpired since the anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Matthew spun his tale. New Testament scholarship has moved in leaps and bounds in the past 100 years. There is much that we can learn from this scholarship. There is so much that we need to learn if we are going to prepare ourselves to live, and move and have our being in the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS.
The world needs to know that there is more than one way to tell a story. Stories are powerful. Stories can move people, they can also move nations, as well as armies. We have a powerful story to tell; a story that has the power to awaken others to the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE that we call God. Do we have the courage to tell that story even if the story we have to tell has the power to threaten some of our very own sacred cows? Our treasured ways, our beloved customs, our carefully constructed theologies, our comforting practices, our beloved traditions and our way of being, might just be turned upside down by all that is being reveal to us as the collective knowledge of our generations expands our wisdom.
We know in our hearts that Christ returns over and over again, each and every day. We have seen Christ in the faces of our sisters and brothers. We have been Christs to one another. We strive to be the LOVE that is God in the world. LOVE isn’t always nice, or pretty, or for that matter joyful. Encountering the LOVE that we call God is a daunting, challenging, awesome thing. Striving to be LOVE in the world is not for the faint of heart. Those who seek to follow the way that Jesus of Nazareth will be seen as fools. But as for me, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, sinners are much more fun. As for heaven and hell, Jesus won’t lead you there. Following Jesus will take you right smack dab into middle of the world: right into all the mess of living, right into the ugliness of all the politics, right into the fears that haunt us, the disasters that threaten us, and the needs of all those who cry out for LOVE. It won’t always be pretty. It certainly won’t be easy. It definitely won’t always be where we would choose to go. But it will certainly awaken us to all that we are created to be. Are your eyes open? Are you prepared?
Let us see visions of what can be. Let us dream dreams. Visions and dreams imagined in this century. Let our vision be big enough and audacious enough to meet the challenges of being LOVE in the world. Dreams and Visions worthy of the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE we call God. This dear sisters and brothers is the Gospel of Christ.