Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Burning Question

by Lynn Adams

Whenever we come to the parable of the ten bridesmaids, perhaps better known as the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, I get all weirded out over how self-righteous and just plain mean the wise bridesmaids are toward the foolish bridesmaids. You probably remember other parables where some hapless person gets thrown into the outer darkness by the God figure, which is always unsettling.

In this case, the bridegroom is in sight, so surely the girls can share the oil on hand among all the lamps. Go to the merchants? How disingenuous! It's midnight, for gosh sakes. And then the bridegroom praises the prigs and makes the featherheads miss the wedding. If this bridegroom is God's spokesman in the story, then I don't get it. I thought we were supposed to do everything in love, be generous and kind-hearted. Why would God commend causing someone else embarrassment?

As you may recall, last Sunday, Melissa preached on this parable. (Please read her sermon of November 9th -- to which I am responding.)

Melissa started out her homily by recounting how several clergy were comparing notes for the task of preaching on this reading. She said their ideas began to home in on one question… At last! I thought. This will give me my answer. But it was some other question. At the end I almost raised my hand. This is interesting because the parish is now planning a new Sunday evening service where the congregation will be encouraged to respond to homilies! I'll be there.

Down at coffee hour I mentioned my burning question to several wise people. Why would (God) the bridegroom welcome self-righteous people and banish goof-ups?

Mark gave me a meaty and satisfying response, and I hope this is faithful to the original: Matthew was writing in a time of great uncertainty in a deeply divided Jewish community after Jesus' death. Matthew often frames the ideas of Jesus in parables that emphasize the importance of vigilance, attention, and being ready, since the opposite traits may permit the newborn worldview to be reabsorbed into religion as usual. Mark cited Melissa's insight -- it's about waking up and being ready.

Reminding me not to be so literal, Richard offered a koan-like answer: Because it's a story.

Bob, experienced in the ways of families, said: They were probably sisters.

Melissa said: I don't know, but isn't that just like a bunch of teenage girls on a sleep-over?

At the end of a delightful coffee hour, I had the cozy feeling of sharing Thoughts About Important Things with a bunch of my friends. If anyone else has ideas about (1) staying awake and being ready, or (2) My Burning Question, please write in!

Lynn Adams is a longtime member of St.Paul's.

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