“Then 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 wise.” (Matthew 25:1-2)
The Kingdom of God is a party. It’s a familiar theme in Jesus’ parables. In this case it’s a small-scale wedding reception being held at the groom’s house. The focus of the story is on those who’ve been invited to attend the party, and on ten young women in particular. We meet them as they stand outside the groom’s house, waiting for him to arrive.
They wait and they wait, and they wait for the groom to arrive and open up the house so that the party might begin. God knows what kept the groom so long. In my experience with weddings, it’s always the fault of the photographer who has taken the wedding party off to some secret location for the perfect pic. That’s not likely to have been the problem in this case but, whatever the cause, it seems that some of these women were more prepared for the wait than others.
The groom doesn’t appear until around midnight, which seems like a ridiculously late time to start a party. Even so, the girls have waited, though half of them have run out of oil for their lamps. Those without oil therefore head off to the 7-11 to buy some more. By the time they get back though the party is already well underway. They bang on the door, but the groom doesn’t recognise them and thinks they are gate-crashers. The door is shut!
It seems so unlike Jesus to shut people out. In other party parables, such as the earlier story Jesus told of a royal wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), the whole thrust of the story is on the inclusiveness of the event. Everyone was invited – the rich, the poor, the blind, the lame, the good, the bad and the ugly! Why exclude the foolish now?
Of course, Jesus did conclude that earlier parable with the warning, “many are invited but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). In other words, yes, everybody is invited to the party, but that doesn’t mean everybody is going to come, and even amongst those who do turn up, not all of them are still going to be there when it’s time to cut the cake. This is a serious party, and if you’re going to make it through to the end, you need to be prepared.
This story is so relevant to us at this time in history. Our world is facing enormous challenges at the moment, including the possibility of a Third World War erupting in the Middle East. Most of the players seem to be looking for a quick fix. They want to wipe out all the terrorists or cripple the government, assuming that this will somehow bring stability. Those who are wiser know that real and lasting peace is going to take a lot of work. Yes, action needs to be taken immediately, but if we are going to see positive and lasting change, we’ll need to be committed for the long haul.
As I often say, ‘every complex problem has a simple answer, and it’s always the wrong answer’. The crises we face now are not easy to fix. We need wisdom. We need courage, and we need to have plenty of oil in our lamps lest we burn out before our work is done. I’m reminded of the 1930 hymn by Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Cure your children’s warring madness.
bend our pride to your control.
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.
Our Sunday Eucharist
It was great to have our old friend, Tom Toby, join David Baldwin and myself on the panel for our Sunday Eucharist last weekend. Tom had been hosting a photographic exhibition in London, and then followed it with another pilgrimage to Karbalah in Iraq. David and I were keen to hear some of his highlights but Tom, predictably, was far more concerned with what was happening in Israel and Palestine.
Gaza was always going to be a key topic of discussion last week though it seemed bizarre to be reading Joshua referring to Israel’s role in driving out all the original inhabitants of Palestine! We struggled with that reading, as we did with Jesus’ tirade against the clergy in Matthew 23. Curiously, in the pre-recoded homily given by our outspoken activist brother, Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer, nothing particularly outrageous was said, and Gaza didn’t get a mention! The recording is below.
This week Robert Gilland and Rev. John Jegasothy are back on the panel with me, along with Joel Jammal giving us a pre-recorded homily on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
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- Monday, November 13th – ‘Reconnecting with Bethlehem’’. A second webinar with Brother Peter Bray of Bethlehem University. 7 to 8pm, Register here.
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Yes, the big event this coming week is our second webinar with Brother Peter Bray of Bethlehem University, scheduled for this Monday at 7 pm, Sydney time. We’ve adjusted the timing of the event to better suit people who need to get home from work before turning in. I’m hoping that we’ll have a sizeable group join us this time.
For any who don’t know, Brother Peter is vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University – the only Catholic university in Palestine. He’s a New Zealander by birth but has been in Palestine for as long as I have known him. He is a man I deeply admire. Like the wise women in today’s parable, he has kept his lamp shining in the darkness long after many of us would have burnt out.
You need to register for Monday’s webinar here. This is not a public event. I will broadcast the replay through our regular social media channels, but I want to avoid gate-crashers for the live event. You need to register here with your email addresses
The downside to keeping this private is that it will remain a secret unless you get the word out. Please tell your friends and all people of goodwill to join us. You can share the direct link to the registration page, or you can share the Facebook Event I’ve set up (which also links back to the registration page). Either way, please help me promote this event. We all need to be wise as to what is happening in Palestine.
May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.
P.S. I’m attaching here a statement that Brother Peter and his team published at the beginning of the recent surge in violence. It affirms their commitment to ‘teaching life’ in the midst of the chaos. Do pray for Brother Peter and do join us for the webinar.