November 12, 2017
Those who heard Jesus tell this parable, and those to whom Matthew wrote his gospel, would have known that a Jewish wedding feast would often start with the groom going to get the bride. He would find her at her house, and he would then eventually take her to his house. This would often take place at night. There would be a need for light, especially if it was a moonless night. There was a tradition of having bridesmaids who were bearers of light so that the groom would be able to find his bride.
But of course our Gospel account today is not really about a Jewish wedding feast. It’s a parable; a story that reveals wisdom. It’s not really about the ten bridesmaids, but rather it’s all about the light that reveals the path to Jesus.
Yet we cannot ignore the bridesmaids; five wise ones and five foolish ones. It begs the question: What makes the wise wise? What makes the foolish foolish?
Our first reading, through lovely poetry, gives insight into wisdom. That compelling, mysterious sense of knowing something without being able to explain it. It’s knowing in my gut, even if I don’t know it in my head. I know because I know.
And It's a gift. It's not something I work at to figure out. It's just something that comes, and yet there’s a required discipline of some sort—a spiritual exercise that I must engage in—in order to receive it.
It’s like the parable of Fetching and Chopping as told by Polly Berrends in her classic book Gently Lead: How to Teach Your Children About God While Finding Out For Yourself. (The title itself reflects extraordinary wisdom.)
Imagine this dialogue between a parent or grandparent and a young child . . . [read pp. 97-98].
There’s another phrase in our Gospel parable that ought to hit home for each one of us today. “Go and buy.” The foolish bridesmaids know only one way to solve their problem—go and buy. And of course it’s ludicrous. It’s midnight . . . and they run off to buy more oil?
While the wise bridesmaids recognize that the truth of the oil is you have to have your own. You cannot borrow (or lend) the fuel of spiritual light from another. You have do your own spiritual homework that sheds light on your own spiritual journey. Like the monks fetching and chopping, the wise ones have tapped the inexhaustible river of spiritual oil.
This theme is not unique to this story. Throughout the gospels Jesus directs his disciples to their inner resources, but they seem to know only “go and buy.”
Commenting on today’s parable, noted Scripture scholar, theologian, and consummate storyteller, John Shea writes, “The foolish do not have their own resources and so are addicted to going elsewhere for sustenance. They cannot envision another way.” Go and buy.
As Black Friday approaches, I cannot think of a more apropos description of our instant gratification, media-driven, pop-culture society today. When we get caught up in it, we find, like the foolish bridesmaids, the doors to the kingdom of heaven locked. It is only by the lamp of our own faith fueled by the oil of our dedicated prayer and faithful living will they open.
I was so pleased when I learned a couple of weeks ago that the theme for the Kehrwald extended family Christmas drawing this year is DIY, Do It Yourself—the opposite of “go and buy.” I think there will be a lot of wisdom shared and doors unlocked in our family this year.
Your homework for the week:
Identify and engage in your “fetch and chop” discipline that reveals true wisdom to you.
Allow me to close with the sequel to “Fetching and Chopping” called “. . . And Raking.” [Read pp 99-100]