Jul 30, 2017

“Bridesmaids and Oil, and Servants and Talents” 7-30-17

Matthew 25:1-30
July 30, 2017

This morning we are looking at two of the last teachings of Jesus, They are in the form of Parables.  In fact, they are the middle two of 4 parables that Jesus used on the final week of his life to answer a question posed to him by his apostles.
That question was about two then future events, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final judgments and establishment of the kingdom of God in its final form, which we sometimes refer to as Heaven.
In the passages that are before us this morning, Jesus was advising the Apostles how they could be ready for his return and the establishment of the kingdom in its final form.
As I said a few moments ago, these two parables are second and third in a series of 4.
The first one we looked at back in June, before I left on vacation, and it is the parable of the trusted steward.  In it, Jesus asked who was the trusted servant whom the master would put over his other servants to care for them and feed them while the master was gone.  He then announced that if that servant did his job and cared for the others while the master is gone, the master would place more of his property at his disposal and under his authority.
But, if the trusted servant did not care for the others, the master would judge him most severely when he returned.  That parable taught the Apostles and those of us who are still waiting for Jesus to return, that they and we are to be taking care of the other servants of God until Jesus returns.
Then Jesus told the parable of the 10 bridesmaids.  This parable requires a bit of explanation for those of us who are not from the Middle East.  The form of wedding ceremonies and the events surrounding the ceremonies vary from culture to culture.  Although most of us have adopted Jesus into our culture, thinking that he is pretty much like us, this parable is a reminder that he lived in a much different time and place,
This parable assumes knowledge of first century Jewish/Palestinian wedding customs.
In that time and place, the wedding started with two processions or parades through the village or town.
At the beginning of the day of the wedding, the bride and groom would be in two separate places.  The groom would be in his home or his parents’ home.  He would be accompanied by his family and his male friends. 
The bride would be in her father’s house, accompanied by her friends and her family.
The date of the wedding would be set, but not the time of day, so at any time of the day when the folks at the home of the groom determined all was ready, the festivities would begin.  The first of those festivities would be the procession or parade of the groom and his companions through the village to the home of the bride.  This would normally take place during the day, but could begin in the evening or night.
While the preparations were taking place at the home of the groom, the bride and her friends would be waiting.  They were to be prepared for the coming of the groom at any time, but with the understanding that he might be late.  So they were each to have hand lamps.  Only people with lamps were allowed to be on the village streets at night.
When the groom and his procession arrived at the home of the bride, then the second procession would begin.  The groom and his friends would take the bride and her friends and family back to his house where the ceremony and the feast would begin.
Our parable tells of 10 bridesmaids who had gone to wait with the bride for the bridegroom.  All 10 had taken their lamps to wait through the evening if he was delayed.  But only 5 had also brought enough oil in flasks or bottles to fill their lamps and keep them burning even if the groom arrived as late as the middle of the night.  They all took a nap while they were waiting. 
The groom finally arrived as the lamps had consumed their oil.  The five with spare oil refilled their lamps and were ready for the procession to the wedding banquet.  Those without oil had to go buy more, and they missed the parade and the door to the groom’s home was locked after his arrival so they missed the wedding.
Our NRSV gives a poor translation of Jesus’ summary of this parable as “Keep awake, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Since all 10 had taken a nap, I do not care for this translation.
Other translations such as KJV and NIV do better, saying “Be alert, therefore...”  Which I think is to be understood in this context as “Be Prepared.”
So, I understand this parable to be a lesson on how we are to approach the return of Jesus.  We are to be ready for it at any moment, as the bridesmaids were for the coming of the groom.  But we are also to be prepared in case the groom is delayed.  We are to be prepared to wait for him for hours, or days, or years or ages.
Of course there are observations that Jesus is the bridegroom of the church of which we are all a part, but the primary lesson is that we are to be ready for the return of Jesus at any moment and also to be prepared for a long wait.
The next parable contains Jesus’ instructions as to HOW we are to be prepared for his return.
It is another parable about a master of an estate who is taking a journey away from his home.
This one, as he was preparing to leave on his journey, gathered his three slaves and gave them each a certain weight of silver of gold.  To his most trusted servant he gave five bars of silver or gold, to another he gave two bars, and to the third he gave one bar of silver or gold
The one who had the 5 bars of silver or gold traded or invested or managed those assets and doubled the value.  So did the one entrusted with two.  They now had 10 bars and 4 bars.
The third servant did not really want to manage the assets of the master.  He considered him to be hard hearted and one who took advantage of others so he buried his bar in the ground to keep it safe, so he could give it back as soon as the master returned.
When the master returned after a long time, he settled accounts with his servants.  He was pleased and joyful over the results of the first two.  So he entrusted more power and wealth with them.
But the third he punished.  He chastised him for not even putting the value of the bar in the bank and getting a few percentage points of interest.  He did not argue with the servant’s view of the master.  In fact he said that if he were the hard hearted fellow that the servant thought, he should have been more careful in how he treated the master’s wealth.
So he took the one bar away from that servant, gave it to the one who now had 10, and he threw that third servant into the darkness where bad things would happen to him.
I want to be careful as I explain what I think is the meaning of this parable, because I have heard some pretty awful explanations of it.  At the end of one sermon, the pastor gave each attendee a $10.00 bill from the church treasury and asked them to each use those 10 dollars as seed money for some activity that would bring more money into the benevolent account of the church.
I wanted to scream because I thought that approach trivialized the meaning of the parable.
Other interpretations have to do with the fact that if we do not use certain abilities or talents that God has given us they will over time diminish and disappear.
So, if it does not have to do with bringing money into the church, or using our abilities so they do not vanish, what does it mean?
It means that we, those of us who believe in Jesus, are his servants, waiting for his return.  According to the parable of the bridesmaids we are to be prepared to Jesus’ return at any moment and we are to plan for it be far away.
According to the parable of the gold bars, we are servants who have been entrusted with valuable assets of the Master.  God has given us wealth, compassion, humor, wisdom, knowledge, and certain abilities.  We are to use those to increase the assets of the master.  We are to invest in each other and others of our time, our money, our lives, so that the Kingdom of God will be built up.  So that more people will be brought into God’s kingdom.  So that the good news of Jesus will be spoken of and propagated in this community and this world.
In sports and in corporations we hear people talk of the short game and the long game.  Christians are to have both.  We are to be invested in each other and others to grow the kingdom of God.  And we are to be ready to cash in today, or at the end of our lives, or even after that.  All that we have and are belongs to Jesus.  How are you investing yourself and your assets to grow His kingdom?

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906