“Be awake therefore as you do not know the hour or the day.” (Matthew 25:1-13. Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 27 ) It all sounds a bit sinister and end of world. Indeed this year it is very hard not to see news images of Gaza reduced to rubble, or landscapes laid waste by famine, flood or fire. It is also important to remember that at the end of the church year, and at the beginning of Advent, we always hear readings about end times, about radical change and the need for us to be awake!
Remember when here in Australia we were encouraged to “Be alert but not alarmed” as part of us becoming aware of the threat of terrorism. But the trouble with being alert is that many of us do experience some form of alarm or anxiety. Being alert to how late in the day it might be, either for the planet’s health and our survival, or in terms of the salvation opportunities for us and those we love, how late in the day it is in terms of our mortal lives and the things undone yet and opportunities gone now for ever, can fuel anxiety rather than readiness. Many of us feel alarmed or anxious some or a lot of the time. Or maybe depressed. Or in a state of denial about there being any limit to time, our time. But this cannot possibly be what the gospel meant for this is a parable about the nature of the kingdom of heaven and how it comes into our lives, into the life of the world.
So let’s focus in on the parable starting with the really physical obvious things. There are ten young women wise and foolish. We all get invited no matter our worthiness or ability. They all go to sleep while waiting and then wake up when the bridegroom comes. None of us are able or even expected to be constantly ready and perfect. The only difference, and it is a big one, is that five had the forethought to have extra oil just in case it was a long haul.
The difference between being spiritually ready and included by the bridegroom and missing out is simply the readiness for the long haul, the amount of commitment to the process expressed in the readiness to get the extra oil, the everything that it takes.
That’s all!! Just be prepared to commit everything to the enterprise of seeking the kingdom, inviting the kingdom into existence, birthing the reign of God into this world where we are. Not much to ask!! It’s the old saying, “Salvation is free but it costs everything!” It is not that the five wise maidens are unkind it is that they cannot provide the oil, it is what each must prepare themselves for the journey.
We know this hard and sad reality in our lives. How many of have wanted to do the work of salvation – from the wrath to come, from addiction, from sadness, from illness for someone we love. But we cannot do their work. Each of us must make our own salvation – it is between us and God. Others can cheer us on, challenge us, give us advise and helpful tips, but no one else can do it for us. We see this in this parable, in the stories of the call of the disciples, in many a challenging reading. The gospel is good news. But it is not casual news. It is often also somewhat all consuming news.
Salvation, or readiness for the coming of the bridegroom, or life giving relationship with God, is often expressed in terms of having the correct beliefs. But having our little container of oil is not about beliefs it is about giving our essence, our selves to the relationship with the divine. It is about giving our minds, hearts and bodies over to the transforming all consuming love of God and letting God’s will or spirit reign in our lives.
Giving our minds over to God is not simply or even developing a list of correct ideas about God. Rather it is letting go of the control of our ideas about things, including God, and letting God instil God’s ideas about us to grow within. But most of us find this very difficult. We are very attached to our ideas even when we know they are flawed.
To try and keep some genuinely available space within our thinking so that God might set up home in our minds requires a discipline or practice of contemplative prayer or meditation.
This is not instead of praise giving or intercessory prayer but part of our prayer life needs to be time when we silence our minds and allow the spirit of God to move as the spirit desires.
Giving our hearts over to God means making room in them. Moving to one side our desperate affiliations and attachments and allowing God to move within. This is no easier than creating room for God in our minds. Even our loving often has a desperate or obsessive quality. For most of us making room in our hearts to receive the love of God means experiencing forgiveness and healing for past hurts and present fears. It is a life’s work and the task of every day to allow ourselves to be loved by God and to allow that love to work its way into all our relationships.
And giving our bodies over to the transforming love of God is to allow, indeed to invite, the spirit of God into every aspect of ordinary daily life. We are told to give thanks for our daily bread – the daily physical needs and delights of being human.
Of all religions it is we Christians who believe that God became human, that the divine came to dwell on earth, that spirit is not separate to matter, and it is we who have every reason to value and honour bodies – ours, those of our loved ones, our neighbours near and far, our fellow creatures of every form, and our very earth. Part of our readiness for the coming of the bridegroom, for the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, is to live physical lives of delight, respect, tenderness and mercy.
To live a life of committing our minds, hearts and bodies to the divine is not to seek to separate ourselves from the world and everyday life but rather to deeply engage with our own life and that of our neighbours to such an extent that we are truly present to the sacredness of the everyday, the divine image in each person and creature. And in so doing to witness the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, the arrival of the bridegroom.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come awaken us to your presence and the in-breaking of your kingdom.