Friday, August 28, 2015

Waiting Like Christians

By Colleen O’Sullivan

This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality.  (I Thessalonians 4:3)

“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.  Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’  While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.  Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  (Matthew 25:6-13)

Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death.  His students asked him, ‘Does a person know when his day of death will occur?’  He answered them, ‘Then he should repent today, perhaps he will die tomorrow!  Thus, all his days will be full of repentance!
(from the Talmud as quoted in Torah With Morrie #4: Live Like You're Dying)

Endings come when we least expect them.  Sometimes they are all too abrupt.  I doubt a single person who lost his or her life on September 11, 2001, whether in the air, at the Pentagon or in one of the World Trade Center buildings, got out of bed that morning feeling like this is it, this will be my last day on earth.   Other times endings are so delayed that we forget we’re waiting for something.  The Christians in Matthew’s day believed that Jesus would come back for them at any moment.  The more time went by with no sign of Jesus’ return, the more lax they became about living Christ-like lives. 

There’s no getting around it; waiting can be difficult.  However, in the grand scheme of things, we are not running the show.  God is.  We have waited for centuries for his Son to return.  Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow.  On the other hand, maybe people millennia from now will still be waiting.  It’s not for us to know.

Our Scripture readings today are about how to live our lives while we wait.  Paul and Matthew assume that we’re waiting with the genuine expectation that Christ will return at the end of time.  The apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians to live holy lives as they wait.  In today’s verses from his first letter to them, he specifically talks about living moral lives with regard to sexuality.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids.  Five of them came prepared with lamps and extra oil so that when the bridegroom arrived for the wedding, they could light his way.  Five of them forgot the extra oil.  The bridegroom took so long to show up that they all fell asleep.  When he finally got there, the girls who’d thought ahead refused to share their oil with the others.  So, the five unprepared girls went out in search of lamp oil and spent so much time doing that that they found themselves locked out of the festivities upon their return.   The message is clear that we should always be prepared, but this parable leaves me with a few questions:  Where was the bride?  Where would a teenage girl buy oil at midnight?  Were the foolish bridesmaids foolish simply because they didn’t prepare beforehand and/or because they left the festivities?  What would have happened if they had stuck around and their lamps went out?  Would they have been thrown out?  Why didn’t Jesus chide the other five for not sharing?  After all, his famous story about the sheep and the goats comes at the end of this same chapter, and there Jesus makes very clear that only those of us who give of ourselves and our possessions to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc., will be with him for all eternity.  I hope all this made better sense to the original audience for Jesus’ storytelling.

A few questions we could ask ourselves:

Do I believe what we say when we recite the Nicene Creed - He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end?  Do I believe what we say at the acclamation of the mystery of our faith – Christ will come again?

Am I living as though I have that expectation?  While I am waiting, am I striving to live a holy life or am I putting that off till some later date?  Am I living in such a way that it wouldn’t matter if Jesus returned tomorrow, because I live in a state of preparedness?

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