FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
Many of us are suspicious of the promises that people make to us and sometimes even of the promises that we make to ourselves. It is common to encounter promises that do not turn out to be true. Here is a partial list of untrue promises: “The check is in the mail.” “Your money will be cheerfully refunded.” “You have already won a valuable prize.” “One size fits all.” “Your table will be ready in a minute.” “This won’t hurt a bit.” “I’ll start a better diet tomorrow.” We have all heard or used these statements. They betray a pattern which is gaining acceptance in our society. The pattern is this: Promise-Fail-Negotiate.
“Oh, you didn’t receive your check? I’ll have it to you on Monday.” “You’re waiting forty-five minutes for your table? I’ll look into it, and I’ll give you free dessert.” “You want your money back? It’s not under warranty, but you can have fifty dollars off the repair.” “I can’t start my diet tomorrow, it’s Charlie’s birthday. I’ll try again after the holidays.” Promise-Fail-Negotiate.
The frightening thing about today’s gospel is that Jesus does not seem willing to negotiate. The foolish bridesmaids have promised to be ready. They failed, and the door was shut. They had some good arguments for a negotiation. They could have said: “The bridegroom didn’t show-up until midnight.” “If fifty percent of the job is showing up, we showed up.” “We intended to do the right thing.” “We did bring oil, just not enough.” But Jesus is unwilling to hear any of these arguments. He says to them, “Truly I tell you; I do not know you.” And that’s that.
So, what are we to make of this harsh stance by Jesus in the parable? How are we to interpret this passage of the ten bridesmaids? It is a warning, a warning that the pattern of Promise-Fail- Negotiate does not fit the Kingdom of God. God has given us everything. God has gifted us with life and opportunity. In accepting God’s gifts, we promise to follow Jesus’ teaching and to do God’s will. This parable tells us that God takes our promises very seriously. It warns us not to come before the Lord with an array of excuses and the expectation that we can renegotiate the contract.
We do not want to be standing before the Judge of the Universe and have to say, “I wanted to spend more time with my family. I intended to be more just with my employees. I planned to reconcile with my brother. But since I did not do those things, can’t we put our heads together and work out some way for me to respond to your salvation?”
We do not want to be standing before the Gates of Heaven and have to say, “I should have been more patient with my mother. I should have been more honest in my business. I should have been more concerned about my prejudices and how I passed them on to others. But since I wasn’t, is there anything I can do now for extra credit?”
You don’t want to look Jesus in the eye and say, “I should have been more thankful for your gifts. I should have been more public with my faith. I should have been more generous to the poor. But I did give fifty dollars to the tsunami victims. Doesn’t that count for something?”
Today’s parable is a harsh warning that Jesus expects us to live up to our promises. Now of course, no one parable captures the whole truth. I could point to many passages in the scriptures that present our Lord in a much more flexible attitude. I could point to passages that show that Christ would be willing to make allowances, that there would be divine mercy to overcome any of our deficiencies. Those passages of scripture are there, but this parable warns us about presuming too much. This parable reminds us that we know who we are called to be. We know what is expected of us. We know that God will not believe that the check is in the mail. Knowing these things, the wise person does not live life counting on a last-minute negotiation. The wise person chooses to live the gospel today. Let that wise person be you.
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