Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Date: Pentecost XXVI (Proper 27) + 11/09/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
A parable of the kingdom of heaven, a story about the reign and rule of God. But in this parable Jesus does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like this but will be like this. In other words He is telling of a future event, and then one that will happen only once and then be done. “The kingdom of heaven will be like” ten of the bridegroom’s attendants who were going out to meet and greet the bridegroom upon his arrival. Then will follow the marriage feast and the reception, and when the wedding is over the new life as a family.
The final three weeks of the Church Year, this year, are narrated for us from Matthew chapter 25; this week the first 13 verses, next week the Parable of the Talents (vv. 14-30) and lastly the Final Judgment (vv. 31-46). This first parable, then, deals with your life now until that day of judgment arrives, this time of preparation and waiting. And this is what God’s reign and rule will be like on that day, at that moment when the bridegroom finally arrives, when the Lord Jesus makes His visible appearance, coming again to judge the living and the dead. This is what it will be like, Jesus says; some are going to be ready, some are not, and there is coming an end to the grace of God when it is will be too late. So this parable throws the question to you and me this morning, “Are you ready?”
It is very important to be ready. First, there is coming a day of judgment, a last day when God’s triumph and victory over sin and death will be finalized “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Unfortunately, these days many people think that they are just an accident of nature, that there is no reason or purpose of their existence. Yet this is something learned from the unbelieving world, for it is fundamental to human beings to have some innate perception that we are not just an accident of nature, but that there is a Creator who created us and that we can know Him and experience a relationship to and with Him. It’s simply called the natural knowledge of God.
Because of the common, inherited disease called “sin,” however, our natural knowledge of God is limited, corrupted, unclear, and mistaken. It is according to our fallen, sinful nature that we are spiritually blind and dead, that our thinking, logic and reason is all out of whack. It is only when the revealed knowledge of God comes to us through God’s Word that God enlightens us, gives us the gift of faith to hear, receive and believe His Word. That Word reveals to us that God is not as we thought, ultimately, a wrathful judge but a God of love who desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved; saved from sin and the judgment of eternal death.
In the parable, many different theories or ideas concerning how to interpret the lamps and the flasks of lamp oil have been put forward. The one thing we can say is that they seem to represent God’s gift of faith. As the psalm says, God’s “word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). So all ten of the virgins or young girls represent the Church as she waits for the Lord’s return. So first we need to say you are made ready for the Lord’s return, first, by becoming a living member of the Church, by your baptism and the gift of faith worked in you by God Himself. That faith, we need to be reminded, lives on and is nourished by the Word of God, the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments, the meditating and praying on the Word of God. The Word of God is the oil, the fuel of faith.
Next, this parable makes a distinction of two groups of virgins. Half of them (five) are called “foolish” and the other half “wise.” Listen to the Greek word translated “foolish,” “morai,” and you can hear it’s where we get the word “moron,” defined in the dictionary as “a person who is notably stupid or lacking in good judgment.” [I like that definition because it leaves the door open to someone like me being stupid, but maybe not “notably” so!] Well, the stupidity or foolishness of the five morons was that, “when they took their lamps, they took no oil with them.” So now the parable and your answer to the question, “Are you ready?” seems to revolve around whether you are a wise or foolish member of the Church, and that being related to and revealed by whether you include the preparations of God’s Word in your life from day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year throughout our time of waiting for the Lord’s final return. Now, unless your attendance today is an especially unique event, most of us here would be called “wise” in that we are allowing the Word of God to feed our faith.
But be careful! This is where today’s Old Testament reading jumps in to warn us not to take blind comfort in only our outward preparations or attendance to worship. When we begin to trust in our attendance rather than the Word that we hear, that’s when the wake up call comes, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” Our worship is worthy only when we allow the Word of God to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” that is, when we are renewed in repentance and the forgiveness of our sins.
So you are ready by (1) being reborn and made a member of God’s family and (2) maintaining that relationship in daily and true repentance and faith.
Notice the detail in the parable that, during this waiting period, “they all became drowsy and slept.” This detail merely matches the fact of the Lord’s delay in His return. However, we can make the observation that there is a difference between a sleep of spiritual ignorance or presumption and a confident, secure sleep of true readiness.
Finally comes the cry, “Behold, the bridegroom!” The five wise girls are awakened and ready. The five morons are awakened, too, but their lamps “are going out.” Obviously their dry lamps cannot be lit without more oil, so they are found to be not ready. For whatever else you want to try to make out of these details, the bottom line of this part of the parable is to say that there is coming a day and an hour when it will be too late to make any further preparations. The only way to get oil for your lamp is to go buy it. But now even those who sell the oil are closed and it is too late now that the bridegroom is actually coming. So it is and will be for Christians who let their days and months and years of grace pass by without securing grace for faith and a new life – now!
The day is coming. The Lord returns and takes his ready ones with Him to the marriage feast. They go in with Him and, verse 10, “the door is shut.” This is the door of God’s grace—the door that David of old found still open even after his adultery and murderous cover-up, the door that Peter found still to be open even after his threefold denial of his Lord, the door which, I can say to you right now for certain, is still open to you and me. The grace of God is huge, but it has its limits. And the door of God’s gracious invitation will be shut never to be opened again to any pleading or prayer or crying or groaning. Today is the day. Today is the day!
Yes, the others were members of the Church. Yes, the others were known by the wise as fellow virgins. “Lord, lord, open to us,” they plead. In reality there will be no response. But the silence will mean what the parable says, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” There can be nothing worse. Yet, it will be just like this when the Lord returns. “This is why we must constantly be watching. Our watching means that we must constantly look to ourselves, to be ever ready, to be ever rich in grace, that when the day and the hour arrive, there may be no question of our being received” (Lenski).
My Lord! What a morning, When the stars begin to fall. Hear the trumpet sound, hear the sinner cry, hear the Christian shout, To wake the nations under ground. My Lord! What a morning, When the stars begin to fall. Be ready.