WATCH AND PRAY
Watch, therefore, because you know neither the day or the hour when the Son of Man is coming. Matthew 25:13
THE warning the Lord gave then is just as applicable now, maybe even more so because in Matthew's day believers were under the impression that the ascended Lord would be returning very shortly, well within their own generation; but as time dragged on the inspired evangelist needed to prop up the church, which he did by recording three of the Lord's parables in a row, all speaking of a Master who is delayed; and with a fourth, that of the talents, which is is an admonition to the church to vigorously administer God's Word to God's people so that their faith should not run dry before the Lord returns, so that they would not give up on the one, true faith that conveys the redeemed into the wondrous wedding hall. Therefore watch O virgins! Be wise so that you are not locked out forever.
Now if God's people needed to be shored up then, how much more today, 2000 years later, as centuries come and go? Today, except for the church that keeps the end before our eyes, no one thinks about the Lord's return: not the fundamentalist Christian who endlessly chatters about it, and certainly not the world that the devil keeps in a comfortable coma so that many will miss the Bridegroom's coming.
Though things look grim, and though misinformed Christians think it is their job to save the church from extinction, we are not without hope because we have something far more powerful than their mad programs. We have this Word of Jesus, "Watch," that awakens the dead and gives them light and life.
The parable our Lord tells here is first about Himself. He is the Bridegroom who went ahead to prepare a place for us and who will return so that where He is, we may be also! The customs cited in the parable key in on the Song of Songs Chapter three, The Royal Wedding of King Solomon to his Beloved, who was attended by a procession of bridesmaids. Solomon was the perfect groom: handsome, wealthy and powerful, but also gentle and solicitous, filled with tender longing for his desired bride, but Jesus is greater than Solomon and the church is His beloved! He loved us and gave His life for us. He washed us clean from all of our sins by His death on the cross and renders us spotless and without blemish before God by His resurrection from the dead.
The virgins are the church which is made up of people both foolish and wise. Which one are you? The foolish virgins ran out of staying power. As time rolled on they forgot about their Betrothed and fell in love with the present age instead; with things that can never satisfy the human heart or give us glorious life. They became infatuated with the ecstasy they might squeeze out of each moment, and with the fleeting hope that tomorrow they will win the lottery and then all will be well. They expended no effort to hear the words of eternal life. They lost their focus and with their focus, the holiness of life that marks Christian existence. Like some of the Thessalonian Christians in today's epistle, they became drunk with the moment, relinquished the all important spiritual gift of self-control and gave themselves over to every unspeakable sin of the flesh.
Yet there were wise virgins, too. They also lived their lives in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. They too were tempted to become impatient and to trade in the unseen things that are eternal for the transient things that are perceived with the sense, but sustained by the nourishment of God's Word, they did not quit.
The delay is the time between Pentecost and the Lord's return when the Judge will descend to separate the sheep from the goats, but on a more personal level it is the span between your baptism and your death. It seems like a long time, and much patience is required, but if we are to endure to the end and be saved (Mark 13:13) we must make God's house our first priority.
The oil is the Word of God, the grace it delivers and the faith it engenders. It is the event we are engaged in at this time, feasting on the Lord's Word wherein our flasks are filled and our lamps are kept burning bright. We have God's command to hear His Word, to learn it, believe it, treasure it, to eat it and drink it at His altar, and to let it transform our lives. How does such a transformation occur? It is nothing you yourself can accomplish by pious thoughts or pretty intentions, but rather it is occurring here and now, for there is no greater teacher of the faith, nor life sustaining power, nor giver of patient endurance than the gifts you receive in God's house today: His Word administered through the church's liturgy, hymns, creeds, prayers, preaching and sacraments.
Yet we must be careful as well. We must not mistake the glorious and all comforting doctrine of "salvation by grace through faith" for a theological welfare program, one where we are carried to heaven on beds of ease. We are children of the light, children of the day. To us much as been given: the promise of a new heaven and new earth, therefore much is also required. In baptism we are granted both the power and the responsibility to organize our lives like the wise virgins did; to live them in a constant wedding procession to and from the altar where we obtain mercy as regards to our sins and then to carry mercy into the world within the confines of our God-given vocation.
TODAY, hear the Word of the Lord. Watch! Pray! Be ready! because you don't know the day or the hour when the Bridegroom will come for you.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras