Stay Awake!

Theme: Stay Awake!

Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25 
Psalm 78:1-7 1 
Thessalonians 4:13-18 
Matthew 25:1-13

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Thessalonians 4:16

God our desire and our judge, we look for your coming and know that when we meet you, we will have to account for our lives. Assist us to live so we are ready to greet you with joy, fully prepared for the feast which lasts forever. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

E te Whanau o Te Wairua Tapu 

In our gospel reading today, Jesus tell us the story about the bridesmaids. Prior to this story, the disciples ask Jesus to help them understand how they can discern the signs of the end of the age. Jesus launches into a terrifying description of the pain that will accompany the end times. Then he tells the bridesmaids’ story, followed by the parable of the talents — another troubling story that seems to suggest to us not to play it safe with the gifts and assets that God gives us. Instead, risk using them even if it means we may lose them all. 

Finally, Matthew 25 closes with the parable of the sheep and the goats — another story where God divides people into two groups — where the sheep end up okay but the goats don’t. So what decides our fate? It seems as if Jesus indicates that those who serve “the least of these” — such as the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned, the poor and the outcast, they are the ones who will be saved because they are the ones who actually minister to Jesus Himself.

You can hear Jesus’ response to his anxious disciples who were eager to understand when the end times will come. Jesus lets them know that there will be some terrible signs that will give people clues that the end is coming but encourages them not to listen to any rumours and to just trust his words.

In other words, remain focused on Jesus as we got plenty of work to do. 

The parables of the talents and the bridesmaids compare the listeners, to servants who are entrusted with a role, while their master is gone. The contrast is made between those who perform well and those who don’t.

In the case of the talents, it’s the servant who fears the master’s harsh treatment that is punished for burying his talents rather than risking investment. He was cast into the outer darkness because he acted out of fear and hid the master’s gold in the ground. The parable of the sheep and the goats suggests that the presence of Jesus is found in those who have in some way found themselves at the bottom of the heap, whether due to misfortune or their own actions. It’s those people who failed to care for the immediate needs of the oppressed, the criminal and outcast, it is they, who are cast into ‘eternal punishment’ this time.

Therefore, with these teachings of Jesus, how do we approach the parable of the bridesmaids? 

Firstly, if the bridegroom wasn’t delayed, none of this would matter. The ten maids would’ve all made it into the party with their lamps burning and ready to dance the night away. So the risk arises in our response to a delay. When something goes wrong? If we accept the traditional interpretation that the bridegroom’s arrival represents the return of Jesus, what risk do we face during the years, decades and the centuries where God and Christ seems to be delayed?

For most, especially when you have toiled for years serving God and Christ, hearing stories of injustice, broken lives, addiction, heartbreak and violence every day, one can be tempted to give up on faith. Where is God? Why has God left us so long in this dark night where the oil seems to be burning low? When the oil is low we can be tempted to react with fear because we might run out of oil before Christ gets here and so we leave and go somewhere else to re-fuel. In other words, we leave our posts, fleeing the darkness, and rush out to find oil to keep our light glowing just a little bit longer? The final line of the parable warns us to “stay awake,” suggesting that the five foolish bridesmaids were in some way asleep. This could be a bit misleading, as the story tells us that all ten maids slept. So having a moe wasn’t the problem, but the fact that five of them left the room to get more supplies. The Greek words used for “stay awake” can also be interpreted to mean “stay alert or engaged, for there is a task to do.”

So why did the five foolish maids lose focus and fail to be alert to the situation? Could it be the maids’ fear of the bridegroom’s reaction to them that causes them to bolt into town? Could it be that waiting in the darkness, even if their lights had gone out, would’ve been a more faithful way to stay engaged with the role given to them? If Jesus is to be found amongst the hungry, thirsty and outcast, could it be that he would respond with compassion to the five maids who might come trembling before him confessing they had run out of oil? We will never know, since they fled rather than risk waiting on the groom. In my experience of Jesus and my wrestling to understand Jesus’ other teachings and ministry, it would’ve been better for them to stay in the darkness rather than flee the scene from fear of being found wanting.

Hence the reason why I’ve always challenged you with the Old Testament scripture where Jacob wrestled ‘the man,’ commonly thought to be God, shouting, “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” the Jewish people have encouraged an approach to faith that actively and pro-actively engages God and God’s words to us.  

In contrast, my experience of much of modern Christianity’s approach to Scripture and faith is a more passive acceptance of the first reading of a text and a distinct lack of robust wrestling! We don’t challenge enough. It seems that fear of being wrong sends many of us running to make sure we have enough oil rather than sitting in uncomfortable darkness with a text for too long. Indeed, Jesus seems to encourage this intentional, proactive, even outrageous kind of interaction with him when he responds to those such as the Syro-phoenician woman with compassion and praise.

When confronted with passages such as the ten bridesmaids, it may do us well to wrestle with Jesus, refusing to let the interaction go until we receive a blessing. Maybe the foolishness Jesus is rebuking in this parable is the fear that caused the women to flee, rather than remaining in the darkness and throwing themselves on the mercy of the coming groom. It’s somtimes hard to wait with faith in darkness, knowing our own resources have run out. Which means Jesus will always challenge our assumptions about authority, our failures and our own responses to our shortcomings in preparations for what real life situations and circumstances that are thrown at us. It is inside this tension and dark place that our true blessing is received. Amen

The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu