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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 25:1–13

“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.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (NRSV)

You have seen the signs or bumper stickers: “Jesus is coming, look busy.” or “The end is near!” Although some of us might scoff, roll our eyes, and attribute this Last Day thinking to fearful street corner protestors, this parable suggests otherwise.

A constant thread woven throughout the Gospel of Matthew is that of the end times. Jesus tells his disciples of the signs of the last days. He makes clear that no one but God knows the exact day or hour of its arrival. The fact that the timing of Christ’s return is unknown underscores the need for readiness. The parable of the ten bridesmaids is part of a longer discourse focused on the disciple’s preparation for Christ’s return. In the parable, the wise is characterized as the one who is well prepared for the return—and even for a possible delay.

We mainline Christians tend not to focus too much on the possible return of Jesus Christ. We give ourselves four weeks before Christmas to ponder the idea—but frankly, we aren’t too good at that. We can’t help ourselves and we hang greens and break into carols. We’ve stopped waiting. Who can blame us? It’s been two thousand years and we have grown used to Christ’s physical absence. If we are honest, we ache for the day of Christ’s return when crying and pain are no more, the sting of death is numbed, and all manner of things are made well.

Waiting is difficult. Waiting with no definite end is more so. But what Jesus calls us to is active waiting—pregnant with anticipation and hunger. Not an idle waiting, but an energizing waiting, characterized by an eager excitement for the promises to be realized. To “keep awake” means that we do the tasks appointed to do in preparation for Christ’s return. In Matthew's Gospel, those tasks include welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, working for the imprisoned and spreading the news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming. We are called not to just look busy, but go out into the world and put our waiting into action.

O God, waiting for your return is easier said than done. Grant me strength and courage to wait with joy and anticipation, that I might prepare this world with my words and actions for your return in glory, awe, love. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Worship and Adult Education Coordinator

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