Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
S. Pentecost 24.23
“when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them… afterward… they came saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us’. But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, ‘I do not know you’.”
And Jesus says ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this’—like 10 virgins, the 5 foolish of whom we’ve just heard, and the 5 wise who take oil for their lamps to go the wedding feast (it’s their own wedding!) to meet their bridegroom.
What? The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Mormons, practicing bigamy? The King marries 10 virgins? Well, Solomon—a great grandfather of the King Jesus—had 700 wives (and 300 concubines for an even grand). It was a different time, you understand. 700 mothers-in-law, too (or so; some may have been sister-wives 😉 which disenchants the picture a bit…
But, no, it’s not like the Mormons, the Kingdom of Jesus. The Lord never approved the multiple wives of the patriarchs and kings of Israel. Just because it was not punished (or were the many mothers-in-law punishment enough? 😉 doesn’t mean that it was a good thing. In the beginning, God clearly says: ‘one man, one woman, life-long union’. That’s what marriage really is. God put up with a lot of shtuff with those Israelites back in that different time, you understand…
Anyway, St. Paul answers this question for us when he says the Church is one Body, the Bride of Christ, but just as your body has many members, eyes, ears, nose, fingers, toes, billions of cells, molecules, etc., so the Church has many members, untold millions and millions, while yet being one Body, the Bride of Christ. God told Abraham in Gen. 15 that his seed (Christ’s Body) would be like the stars of heaven, numberless, countless, and yet One, because the Hebrew word for seed, zera (poorly translated by the ESV as “offspring” and worse by NKJV, NRSV, NIV as “descendants”) going into NT Greek as σπερματος is always singular in all the promises referring to Christ and Israel his Bride. So is the church many or one? Yes! As bread made from many grains of wheat is one, so is the Church. One of the great mysteries of the faith!
So, the parable of the ten virgins today is addressed to each of us as the individual members of Christ’s one Body, his Bride (because bride and groom, though two, in marriage become one). And just like St. Paul says—in one of the worst mistranslated verse in English in the scriptures, Rom. 9:7, which only the NRSV gets right—blind squirrel finds nut, Florida man writes book—that not all Israel is Israel, and not all Abraham’s children are his seed, but in Isaac your seed shall be named (neither Ishmael nor Esau nor Keturah’s kids were zera, σπερματος, seed because they had no faith in Christ, so only those who share Abraham’s faith (like Isaac) are his seed and members of the Body of Christ.
This is a really important parable and, so, of course, “That’s my favorite thing!”, which is why the greatest Lutheran hymn, “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” is written on this text and Bach’s best tune is an improvisation on the original Wachet Auf. This parable answers the crucial question: “What is the difference between Christians and non-Christians? What makes some people members of Christ’s Body, the Bride, his Church, and others forever left outside in the dark?
Well, duh, it’s the oil, right? Obviously! The five wise virgins have oil in their lamps, while the five foolish have none—and don’t have time to get to the oil dealers and git them some before the wedding has been consummated and the party started. (The Kingdom of Heaven runs on oil? Yes! Not on electricity produced in nuclear, or coal-fired powerplants, and stored in Chinese-made batteries).
And it appears this oil is a renewable and endlessly renewing resource—it’s not some dead fossil-fuel—especially when it’s the oil that makes Christian lamps burn (and BTW this may be true of regular oil too according to the now suppressed findings of a noted geologist I remember reading in the early 00s, which now, I guess, would be an inconvenient truth for a global technocracy determined to run on coal, wind, solar, nuclear, anything that requires Chinese made batteries to work. Not that I give any credence to such wild conspiracy theories, mind you! 😉
But I do like the picture of the church as an oil company and pastors as dealers in dangerous contraband. The disreputableness of it all me happy all week—because what we do is dangerous, to the devil and his minions! Very much so! I can tell you: wearing my “costume” as my wife calls my clerical collar, gets you similar stares as drug dealers and gang members get these days; like: “Is that still legal?” And I just… smile 😉
Well, I’ve buried the lede sufficiently, I think, the answer to the big question: what does the oil represent in this parable? The Word! Christ Jesus, the word made flesh. Jesus is the oil that lights the lamp of every Xn. Jesus is the rock on which the church stands, the fuel which powers us, an endlessly renewable and renewing resource, one that is not just “cheap”, but free! (And freeing 😉
To be quite specific, the Word who made heaven and earth gets into us by the Xn church’s word and sacraments. The ‘oil’ then, in this parable, would be the means of grace of the Xn Church which is dealt to us by the pastors Xt calls and ordains (and the world treats as drug or arms dealers ;-).
Another little fun fact that helps us get this parable as the first hearers would have is that ancient marriages were all arranged by the parents—usually when the bride and groom were children, and sometimes before they were even born! This is why the virgins, the bride, don’t recognize their bridegroom—because they’ve never met face to face, till their wedding.
The word of holy scriptures and the sacraments are like a marriage contract that identifies the groom and the bride and promises a future union. But just as Israel waited millennia for her bridegroom to show up in the flesh for the marriage, so the church waits. The engagement happened when Jesus took on our sinful flesh and purified it by his death and resurrection. But then he ascended and promised to return soon for the actual Wedding Feast.
And this is why the virgins are waiting for their beloved—why they all sleep. It’s a long wait. A dark time. Jesus promises to come at midnight for our wedding, when things are at their darkest, the bride at her lowest, her most distressed, and the promise of a glorious future most unlikely. At midnight sounds the cry: “The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take… and enter all, the marriage hall, and eat the supper at his call!”
But the key thing is that Jesus doesn’t know, (even though he’s omniscient!) he doesn’t recognize as his bride the foolish ones who have no oil! What’s up with that?!
Well, simply put: there will be no bible trivia or catechism quiz to get into the Wedding Feast. It’s not what we know about Jesus that gets us in, but whether or not he knows and recognizes us as his Beloved.
The most disastrous mistranslation of all is how English translations render the words of institution: “Do this in remembrance of me” as if it were Greek εν. But the Greek is εισ—into! as the Lord’s Supper (as every form of Xt’s word) is not given so that we’ll remember Jesus, but as a marker so that Jesus will remember us!!!
Christ’s holy word, holy baptism, holy supper is oil—that lights us up, from inside, and identifies us, so lit, as Xt’s Beloved. Just so, we come to the Feast, now and ever, Bride of Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.