March 31 2018
ARE YOU FOOLISH OR WISE?
Ponderings on the parable of the five foolish and five wise young women.
That parable, found in Matthew 25, starts with, “At that time”. That’s the time just before THE FINAL JUDGEMENT, soon to come.
This passage definitely suggests that THE END comes out of the blue: no advance notice. People are at ease: not a cloud in the sky: we all know that weddings take place when people feel confident and upbeat. It’s also an elaborate wedding. Just imagine: TEN bridesmaids!
Jesus starts it with, “At that time.” That sets the scene.
What time is that?
It’s the time when the organized church has largely become irrelevant, when “the Left Behind” and “Rapture” heresies finds general acceptance, when extinction is so common that nobody pays any attention on this sort of un-creation.
So what does the Parable tell us?
That parable is pretty straightforward. Ten Bridesmaids, young girls, teenagers, I imagine, who are responsible for preparing the bride to meet the bridegroom.
It so happens that teenagers have featured prominently lately, agitating against gun ownership, high school kids who, according to the latest surveys, have almost en mass stopped going to church.
Well, here it is different.
Picture the scene. Imagine ten excited young women; they all been asked to play a part in the proceedings. They are quite a relaxed and happy bunch, no different from young women today. Each had done her best to look pretty, but, still a bit unsure how they would compare to the others, had entered the hall with some trepidation, but when they had seen how the others were attired, they felt better and actually quite pleased with themselves.
To us they all would look equally qualified. But somehow Jesus made a distinction in the group. Five he called foolish. Five he called wise.
That’s one thing I found questionable. Why are the foolish called foolish? We know that the foolish are labeled that way because they had not taken extra oil along for their lamps.
Tell me: What would you have done had you been among the chosen Ten? The wedding is set for three o’clock. Of course most of them were there at least an hour before that, the party is somewhat later, but certainly it would be all over before midnight, because tomorrow is another busy day. The lights are needed for that short trip to the wedding hall, so, for the time being the lamps are set on low-low. With a full tank there’s plenty of oil for the entire proceeding, with fuel to spare.
Plain common sense.
The Bridegroom was known to be a punctual man, so why take along extra jars of that smelling and expensive fuel? Suppose that the earthen crock pot would break and spill its contents all over the new dress. These jars were not like our plastic cans, no, they were frail, cumbersome and heavy. Mother was right: just to carry a lamp with a full tank would be enough. Also, how can you carry the presents when one hand is needed to carry the light and another to carry extra oil?
I agree with the so-called foolish maidens. Their action made perfect sense.
“But,” says Jesus, “those who carried the heavy jars were wise.” Those who Jesus called ‘wise’ do things totally beyond the call of duty, needlessly complicating their lives. To me the foolish make much more sense.
Can you think of one reason why Jesus calls the practical teens foolish and the overcautious women wise? Jesus must have a reason, so let me make a guess, and for this I will take a little detour.
Going to church is a bit like going to a wedding: we expect to meet the Bridegroom and to hear about Jesus. The weekly habit of attending church on Sunday and perhaps participating in a Bible study during the week can be compared to the normal supply of oil.
But we all know, there is more to meeting the Bridegroom, more to being a Jesus follower, more to going to church than routine matters. That’s why the super cautious, extra oil bearing women are called wise. They are prepared for more: they have taken PRECAUTIONARY measures (more on that next week), just in case!
And they proved right because the Bridegroom’s coming was delayed.
We must see the context of this parable. It is set after Matthew 24, which has as its heading, “Sign of the End of Age” and “The Day and Hour of Jesus’ Return Unknown.”
Jesus, after a long sermon on the final days of humanity, speaks this parable. He begins, “At That Time” or “At this particular moment, at the End of Days”.
Today there are, indeed, two kinds of people: foolish and wise, dumb and smart, people who live by the day, and those who are prepared for the real FUTURE, and think ahead.
I think that Jesus knew that at the End of Days OIL would again be a key element in the world. Jesus had a perfect view on history and knew that the END would be an oil-saturated situation.
It is well documented that OIL has been the very cause of wars in the last decades, and now is THE MOST SINGLE ELEMENT in the WAR against Creation, evident in Rapid Climate Change.
Oil in those days came from olives, a tree very abundant in Jesus’ time, and came in various grades. The lowest grade – usually rancid – was burned in lamps, while the highest quality was used for medicine and ointment purposes. Our word OIL has its origin in OLIVE.
Still all oil was expensive, one reason why the young girls, exhausted after extending their teenage chatter well beyond their usual bedtime – which was at sun down – turned the lights to low and so the wedding feast became a slumber party. All ten were sacked out on couches and across the floor of the room where they were keeping a lookout.
Then, finally, at midnight, there was a cry, “There comes the Bridegroom. Wake up to meet him.”
The parable portrays the practical reality of life: the unexpected does happen. It happens all the time. Fish stocks collapse. Ozone layers thin and go. The Arctic ice mysteriously melts. Most dangerous: insects disappear and Climate changes. Suddenly the doomsters have substantial evidence for their message. The unexpected does happen. Before you realize the Lord is there while we slumber the time away.
Then all the maidens rose, straightened out their dresses, quickly combed their rumpled hair, turned to their lamps and five of them discovered that they have practically run out of oil. They are not ready anymore to welcome the Bridegroom. All the shaking and trying is useless: their lights are dead. The unexpected did happen. The Oil is gone. The always reliable, punctual bridegroom was late for his own party.
So what should we think of all this? What does this all mean?
It means that God has taken so long to do anything that the world has dug its own grave. The lights are going out in this world.
We, in North America have built our subdivision-built society on the premise of cheap and unlimited oil, making public transportation impossible. Electric cars have less than One Percent of the market. The CO2 count is increasing, and Arctic Methane is exploding.
Unless there is something other than the know-how of the world to remedy the situation, there is no way that we can straighten out the mess we have made, politically, ecologically, religiously and economically because PRECAUTION was ignored and WISDOM went by the wayside.
So, what do we do now? Shun the signs and go on as if nothing is the matter? What else can we do as Christians? That is the real question we face.
Well, listen to the rest of the parable.
“And the foolish said to the wise, “Give as some of your oil, for our lights are going out.” But the wise replied, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you. Go to the fuel dealer and buy some.”
How is that for a Christian answer? Aren’t we supposed to share things with others? Try to buy some fuel at midnight!
For a long time I really did not know what to think of that rather snotty reply of the Five Wise Women. Now it seems to me that this answer suggests that there comes a time when we have to shrug our shoulders and go our own way. Time does run out as it always does in real life.
The parable suggests to me that a day will come when it will be too late to reform society. This is the case today. We have reached a point in world development where it is too late to return to an ecological balance, too late to reform the ecclesiastical situation, too late to revamp the economic structures, too late to change the political system.
It’s on that note that the parable ends. While they went to buy, the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready, those who had the extra oil, those who had practiced PRECAUTION, went with him into the marriage feast and the door was shut. Afterwards the others came, knocked and said, ‘Lord, open up.’ But he said, ‘Sorry, I don’t know you’.”
I don’t know you??!!
Isn’t that a strange reply? The Lord doesn’t say, “I have never called you, or I have never loved you.” No, he says, “Listen, you have never bothered to get to know me, simply practiced routine religion. That wasn’t good enough, because you never took the time to seriously find out that I died to REDEEM CREATION and to restore everything I made in the beginning, but you never did anything to prevent extinction, lived the merry life of INFINITY NOW in a Finite world.
There’s a right way and the wrong way.
In this age of instant solutions, instant heating and cooling, we expect instant salvation and an instant Jesus. I don’t believe that life works that way: a marriage, a faith, a friendship, one’s life in Christ takes a long time maturing.
That’s why Jesus has given us lots of time. He has come late to give us more opportunity to see what is good and what is bad in this world, so that we can avoid errors later.
In this final period of our present civilization, the remaining time is of the utmost essence.
How do I utilize this last hour before entering the wedding hall?
There is hope.
There is hope for this world. That hope is the New Creation, a renewed Earth under a heaven cleaned of all the space junk. I believe that we have to, somehow, take distance from our capitalistic, ‘growth at all cost’ society, and to share with others, people of all walks of life and from all denominations and no church affiliation that Jesus is All and in All things.
Perhaps thinking about it, talking about it, trying to comprehend what we are doing and have done to God’s earth, and ask for forgiveness, is all we can do.
We, as children of love, must show that we love God and thus his creation, and love neighbors as we ought to love ourselves. Those are the great commandments. The rest is of relative unimportance. Only when we show our love, will we know Jesus and will Jesus acknowledge us.
That requires unconventional actions, such as taking along extra oil, be prepared for all eventualities, going against all accepted wisdom: be totally precautionary.
In practical terms that means to consciously ready ourselves for a life of eternal permanence, to live as if we are already in the renewed creation because that, and only that, opens the door to THE WEDDING HALL.
Something totally different.
Here’s something different, more in line with Easter.
While I was running on my treadmill last Saturday afternoon, I was musing on my next blog. My thoughts went back more than 75 years, to 1943 or thereabouts, when, on a glorious Easter morning in German-occupied Holland, I, then 13-14 years old, woke up early, went to our pump-organ, and played and sang:
Daar juigt een toon, daar klinkt een stem
Die galmt door gans Jerusalem
Een heerlijk morgen licht breekt aan
De zoon van God is op gestaan.
Want nu de Heer is op gestaan
Nu vangt het nieuwe leven aan.
Een leven door zijn dood bereid
Een leven in zijn heerlijkheid.
Nu jaagt de dood geen angst meer aan
Want alles, alles is voldaan.
Here’s my free translation:
A sudden sound, a vibrant voice
summoned Jerusalem to rejoice.
A laser-like light illumined the cave
That caused our Savior to rise from his grave.
Now death forever will disappear
For new life comes, life without fear
A life forever in his presence,
A life where joy’s the very essence.
Now Death no longer has a hold
Forever abolished as Scripture told.
That, indeed, is the message of EASTER.