Saturday, 5 November 2011

Ever Ready?

GospelMatthew 25:1-13

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.” But they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.” They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. “Lord, Lord,” they said “open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.” So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’
During this Liturgical year I have come to realise that the more I hear from Matthew the more I am unsettled by his Gospel.  Sometimes, it seems to be so full of resentment and judgment that there seems to be little to choose between the critical Pharisees and the challenges that are being made against them. Scripture always has something to say to the individual - reading us as we read it- and the most fearsome element of the last few weeks is the feeling that all this finger-pointing has a particular something to say to me.

I admit that I have been part of the education system that taught Jesus as being nice and kind and seemed to often gloss over his more challenging attributes and now I know better; I admit that I do believe that Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit have it in their minds that we should all make it to the Kingdom and if we don't then maybe we have to accept that it is our fault; I admit that I believe that there is nothing that is unforgivable and that this all-forgiving love is God's default position.

I have come to realise that I believe all of this because of John, Mark, Luke and Paul - but Matthew? Not so much.

Matthew, as he gets nearer and nearer the end of his Gospel becomes more and more threatening in his language - 'You had better be good or else'; warning after warning after warning. And I do want to be 'good' but the likelihood of me managing it becomes more and more remote - the standards are just too high; the suggestion that there will be a 'them' and an 'us' becomes more frightening as I come to realise that I am likely to be in the 'them' group.

I have found it hard to read the accusations thrown at the Pharisees for being hypocrites -  how much is that like me; I find it hard to read about the arrogance of the teachers -how often have I done the same; today I find it hard to read about the unreadiness of the servants  -  when I know there are times I have been distracted or unable to be there when I am needed.

I find Matthew makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable and maybe that is the point. I don't feel able to write about 'others' - the people who do...; the people who don't... the people who should ...- I am all those people. Why should I look outside myself for what is 'not good enough' ?

In past years I have wondered why the bridesmaids don't share -surely that would be more Christian than this very sensible reply? If they have given the right answer, what do they mean?

Perhaps the answer is there is only so far you can go to help anyone - but to help a fool? I have lamps and candleholders around the house - looking beautiful. I even  have torches and storm lanterns in the drawer and garage - in case of emergency. If I am a fool then once the emergency comes - I may know where the lamps and the torches are but where are the candles, the oil, the matches, the batteries?

Getting ready is only part of the work-  if all I have done is build an exterior that looks the part-  if all I have done is fulfill an initial expectation and then pretended it might never happen - isn't that my fault?

I may be proud that I had everything in place for last year's cold winter - but what about this year?

In my past I have felt God calling and have had the desire; taken the time, made the opportunities to deepen my faith; to find a place to live out what I believe God wants of me -

and what about now? Do I believe I've done enough; has complacency set in; am I a fool?

Perhaps I should thank you after all, Matthew, for the wake-up call.



Philomena Ewing said...

Thanks Word for these wise insights into Matthew's gospel.
I agree that the end-time readings are pretty confrontational and you've done a great job on clarifying a path through the maze of thoughts that arise when trying to work out what we need to do.

claire said...

Yes, like Phil, I very much like your post.

I must say I have evolved regarding this story. Yes, Matthew is an old grinch; yes, the foolish vs. the wise bridesmaids seems to be one more way of putting down women or at least of putting some against others.

I like your asking 'how far must one help?'

There is also the death idea. Shall I be ready when my time comes? When He comes to fetch me...

I like your conclusion as well.

Thank you :-)

Word in the Hand said...

Dear Phil and Claire, thanks very much for your visits - not sure how clarifying it is. It seems that every time I read these parables they say something different but maybe that is the point - and the gift.
blessings m+x

Jade said...

This is just what I needed to read. I've been having feelings of discomfort with the gospel and Jesus, and I think sometimes we have to face these discomforts, like you said, the "wake up call" and not shut out parts of the gospel that are not so pleasing and easy to us. Honesty with God is so important and this is what I found in your post, something I'd love to emulate in my own writing and prayers.

I think it comes down to the fact that the truth is not always pleasant or easy to our finite minds, but we can trust that God is just and fair, and that we don't have to fear through our faith in God.

Word in the Hand said...

Thank you Jade, it is a wake up call (and I hope a better change of wiser or the better person in the parables). The challenge is always there even the challenge of remembering God's love for us.