November 15, 2023

Be Ready & Be Responsible

Prayer for illumination

God of prophets and parables, your Word can meet us with a challenge, a puzzle, and a promise. Send your Spirit with the gifts of understanding to grasp Your life-transforming word, and courage to take up the challenge and the promise, through Christ, Your Living Word.

During my basic military training, we spent a week in the field for field training. There was no electricity, no running water, no shelter. Each of us had to make our own hoochie tent, like a tarp, and sleep and change under it.

On the first night, before we went to bed (I mean into the sleeping bag), we were told that there would be some night battle training even though they didn’t tell us when exactly it would happen. We were just told to be prepared. I had yet to learn what the night battle exercise would be like. But I was so exhausted and fell asleep.

I woke up to loud bombing sounds and yelling to stand by. We had to put our gear on quickly - our boots, helmets, and guns in pitch-black darkness and terrifying bomb sound.

Those who paid attention to the little hint of what might happen at night prepared themselves for a sudden order by organizing their gear at hand. So, they were able to put on their combat gear and were ready in a ‘stand-by’ position swiftly. However, those who were not prepared were in real chaos. Some couldn’t find a boot and some had no helmet.

After half an hour of yelling and gun shootings, a ‘stand down’ order came down. We were allowed to go back to sleep. But after the chaotic battle exercise, our hoochie tents fell off and everything was all over the place. It was because we were not prepared for an abrupt battle training in the middle of the night. But what if that was a real battle?

Today’s text is a part of the Olivet Discourses. The Olivet Discourse is the name given to Jesus’ extended teaching about the end times on the Mount of Olives.

In Matthew 23, Jesus had spoken to the Pharisees concerning judgment. In 24:1, Jesus was leaving the temple when the disciples called His attention to the magnificent temple buildings. Jesus then tells the disciples that “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down”.

This prophecy was literally fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. And the splendid temple was burned and looted. This destruction of Jerusalem was but a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.

Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple got the disciples curious. When they were alone with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

What follows in Matthew 24–25 is Jesus’ warnings about what would happen in the last days. Today’s text, the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is a very well-known story that warns us to be ready, watchful, and responsible.

There were three stages to a Jewish wedding in those days. The first was engagement – a formal agreement made by the fathers. The second was betrothal – the ceremony where mutual promises are made. But even though the bride and bridegroom were considered to be married, they lived apart for a period of time—typically a year.

The third was marriage – the bridegroom would march with his friends to get his bride and bring her to his house for the wedding feast and ceremony. This procession took place at night, although the exact time was kept secret.

The precise day and hour of the wedding feast were not known far in advance. But it was not terribly difficult to tell when the wedding was approaching. And the bride and her bridesmaids likely learned that it was the beginning of her wedding week sometime before nightfall on the evening her wedding would begin.

As the bridegroom made his final preparations, the bride and her bridesmaids made themselves ready and waited for the bridegroom to arrive.

This procession was a joyful parade of close friends of the bride and bridegroom. The wedding party’s dancing and laughter filled the streets, and their torches and lamps brightened the night.

So, the context of today’s text was at the end of the betrothal period, just before the wedding procession. The bride and her ten bridesmaids have perhaps received word that the bridegroom will come to receive his bride tonight.

But whether by custom or circumstance, they don’t know the precise hour he will arrive. They get ready for his coming, likely by putting on their wedding clothes. And per tradition, they took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Jesus explained that five of these bridesmaids were foolish, and five were wise. The five were foolish because when they took their lamps, they took no oil with them.

The kind of lamps they likely used were small clay lamps (looking like a teapot) with a handle on one end and a small spout on the other where a wick was placed to be lit. The oil they used was likely olive oil, and it was what kept the lamps burning bright.

The foolish bridesmaids neglected to ensure that they had enough oil for their lamps. It could have been through forgetfulness, neglect, or poor calculation. And they assumed that whatever oil was already in their lamps would be enough for them to light their lamps during the wedding procession.

But the wise bridesmaids took an extra bottle of oil along with their lamps when they went out to wait for the bridegroom. They planned ahead and made sure that they had enough oil to light their lamps in case the bridegroom came late.

The bridegroom was later than expected. And while they stayed up waiting for him to arrive, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. Perhaps because they fell asleep, the foolish bridesmaids were unable to recognize that they were running out of oil for their lamps.

But at midnight there was a shout. Midnight was a late hour to begin a party, but nevertheless, that was when the bridegroom came. “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”

It startled the ten bridesmaids awake. He was coming! The wedding was about to begin! They checked their lamps for the procession. The five foolish bridesmaids then realized that they were out of oil and their lamps would not light.

“Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” They asked the wise bridesmaids, but the wise answered, “No, there will not be enough for both us and you.” They only had enough oil for their lamps and had none left over to give. So, they said, “Go to the dealers and buy some oil for yourselves.”

They had no choice and hurried out to get some oil. And while the foolish bridesmaids were away to buy some oil, the bridegroom came. Those who were ready - the wise bridesmaids - went in with him on the wedding procession to the wedding feast. Once they were inside the courtyard or house of the bridegroom where the feast was happening, the door was shut.

Sometime later, the foolish came to the bridegroom’s house. We are not told whether or not they ever found any oil, but with the wedding procession over, it was no longer needed. When they found the door shut, they called out saying, “Sir! Sir! Open the door for us.” But, the bridegroom said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”

Jesus then told the point of the parable to His disciples. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Jesus is teaching us to be alert and remain faithful until the Messiah’s return so that we get to participate in the joyful celebration of the final wedding banquet and His triumph.

One of the keys to remaining faithful in a world full of temptations is to be alert. This means remembering to live as God has called us to live. How does God expect us to live? Do you think God wants us to live as hermits, spending the rest of our lives reading the Bible and praying in an isolated place?

OR do you think God wants us to gather exclusively by ourselves (Christians) for worship and fellowship? I believe Jesus wants us to live the rest of our lives as He commanded us, sharing love and light.

What is God’s greatest commandment for us? You all know it by heart. Jesus said in Matthew 22, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Another important lesson is to pace ourselves, finishing the race strong. We don’t want to burn out. Neither do we want to relax and say “I paid my dues, now it’s time to relax.” “I taught in Sunday school classes; I was in several Bible study groups; I gave enough offerings; I volunteered for church and for my community; I think I did enough for God.”

Friends, we do not know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t even know what will happen tonight. Jesus will come when we least expect it and Jesus may call us home tonight.

I encourage you to continue your race. You don’t need to run but walk each day faithfully. Continue to live as you’ve been living.

Enjoy serving God and His church. Read the Bible and know Him better. Sing praise to our Awesome God. Come to church expecting to taste His goodness no matter what circumstances you are in. And most of all, love your neighbors.

Shine the light of God to those who are struggling in darkness - the darkness of despair, darkness of grief, darkness of loneliness, darkness of mental illness. Share the love of God with unfortunate people in our community, your unbelieving neighbors, and estranged family members.

If you know that Jesus is coming tomorrow, you will perhaps take initiation to reconcile with your estranged family members or friends. You will perhaps give away your possessions because you know that you cannot take any of your belongings to heaven. Live your life without regret. Express fully how much you love others. Say it and Act it.

Friends, We want to be wise bridesmaids who are ready for the Bridegroom whenever He comes. Prepare your oil. Prepare your light. Prepare yourself for His coming. So that you can joyfully join the procession to the final wedding banquet with Jesus, our Bridegroom.

Let us pray.

Father God, we want to keep watch and be ready when Jesus comes back. The wise way to actively prepare ourselves for the rest of our given lives is to love You and love our neighbors. Fill us abundantly with Your never-ending love so that we can love people around us. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.