November 2011: Stories of a different time,and maybe tomorrow

The Bible is full of ancient stories, some of which make sense today, and others leave us wondering what is was all about. The meaning behind the stories is timeless, but sometimes the details are not.

In our gathering last Sunday evening, we read Jesus’ words about wise and foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13). It begins, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this,” and ends, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” These two sentences are like the bookends around a made-up story about waiting bridesmaids whose lamps burn low, a story that we struggle to make sense of today.

In our time, it is the bridegroom who waits nervously, and the bride who arrives a little late. But in Jesus’ time, it was the other way around, and with less focus on time and more on potentially difficult last minute inter-family negotiations, the waiting could be long. In this story, the bridegroom does not arrive until the middle of the night! And the bridesmaids, whose role is also different from today, must be ready to light his way in to the building - there were no electric lights then, remember! The wise bridesmaids are kitted out with extra lamp oil ready for a long wait; the others are not, and have to go off to the all-night shops for more oil. As a result they miss the bridegroom’s arrival and the start of the great wedding banquet. When they try to get in, the bridegroom says to them, “I do not know you.” They simply weren’t there to help light his way in, he consequently does not know them, and it is too late to do anything further about it.

So now we can understand the story: only those who are ready get in to the banquet, which stands for heaven; the others, who are not ready through lack of foresight, are shut out. Jesus summarises it with “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Note that the bridesmaids were all asleep in the story - this doesn’t literally mean “don’t sleep.” It means “Keep watch.”

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The end will come sooner or later for each one of us - we all have to die, and we don’t know when. Occasionally, we have near-death experiences that change our minds about the afterlife; but we can’t count on that! Whether we believe Jesus will return first, or we die first, doesn’t really matter - we need to be ready if we wish to be included in the heavenly banquet. In a way it’s like taking out insurance!

So, be ready!

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.