November 8, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 25:1-6, 13 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “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. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”. . . Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Read the whole parable here.
The work we do, the decisions we make, the people we help, the justice we fight for, the hope we preach, the prayers we offer—all those make us more Christlike. They help us keep our lamps lit for the moment the bridegroom comes.
Yesterday, we talked about Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonian believers to abide in hope because Christ has risen from the dead—the herald, or “firstfruits” (as I Corinthians 15:20 says) of the great deliverance someday coming for the rest of us.
Today’s passage is also about that final deliverance, but from a different angle: it talks less about God’s grace than it does about our responsibility. Jesus told this parable as one of a whole group of parables, all of which were in response to a question from the disciples (Matthew 24:3) about what the “end of the age” would be like. Many of the terms he used and the stories he told are familiar to us if we’ve spent any time around apocalyptic preaching or literature about the end times: wars and rumors of wars, persecution, suffering, watchfulness, and even that angel with a trumpet we met in yesterday’s devotion.
Jesus threads a common theme through these parables: the need to be ready, because no one knows when the Son of Man is going to show up and the end is going to come. This parable is perhaps the crowning example of that.
The bridesmaids Jesus talked about were waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom so that the wedding banquet could begin, much as today we linger at wedding receptions while the happy couple takes photos, nibbling on a few pretzels and talking to our friends but eager for the moment when bride and bridegroom will appear. It was the task of these particular bridesmaids to wait as long as necessary and to be as prepared as necessary—and, in fact, not all of them were prepared. The unprepared ones went out to buy oil for their lamps and found out when they came back that they had missed the party. The door was shut and they could not get in.
We may question this parable (and people have). We know from elsewhere in the Scriptures that God loves and extends grace to everyone: why would the unprepared bridesmaids be shut out? To me, some words of C. S. Lewis are (once again) helpful here: his statement in The Problem of Pain that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”
That is: through the choices we make every day as we move along our path of discipleship in this life we are growing closer to Jesus or further away; we are making ourselves more into or less into the kind of people who actually want to attend the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In my Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, we call this process “sanctification,” but the term matters less than grasping the concept. The work we do, the decisions we make, the people we help, the justice we fight for, the hope we preach, the prayers we offer—all those make us more Christlike. They help us keep our lamps lit for the moment the bridegroom comes.
How are you becoming like Christ?
Where do you need Christ’s help to become more like Him?
How can your labor and prayer help serve the Kingdom, especially the poor and needy?
Listen to this song, “Your Labor is Not in Vain” by The Porter’s Gate. Think about the ways you can help others flourish. Then do one thing today that you think of.
Lord Jesus, thank you that the things we do for your Kingdom in this life are never in vain. Guide us as we seek to grow more like you every day and to spread your Kingdom, your justice, and the gospel of your saving grace. Amen.
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:45-51)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.