Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Word to the Wise!

In the midst of two chapters exhorting us to readiness for the coming of the Son of Man, we have this interesting parable.  It ends with a message much like those preceding and following it:  "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."  The divide amongst those in the parable, however, is unlike the other parables in that they are not labeled "trustworthy or worthless" or "blessed or accursed," but rather "wise or foolish."  This parable suggests that wisdom is part of discipleship.  Perhaps we have overlooked this.

(The following questions are an attempt to get at some of the foundational concerns for Law and Gospel preachers.  They are intended to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which have other concerns.  They were developed as part of my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  It is clear that this parable is a call to readiness.  Similar calls in the preceding chapter provide the context.  It is a call to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. It is a call to those who have already been invited to the wedding feast - to those who are known by the bridegroom.  That is why the final word, "I do not know you," is so startling.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There seems to be a lack of Gospel in this text.  We are exhorted to be ready for Christ's coming.  We are told to be wise and prepared.  We are told that there are some who have been invited to the feast who have finally been left outside.  None of this sounds like Gospel, telling us what God has done in Christ.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are, of course, the bridesmaids, either wise or foolish.  We are those to whom the message comes, "Be prepared.  Bring oil for your lamps. You know neither the day nor the hour."

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  It could be argued that this entire parable is a call to obedience.  In other words, this text invites us to respond to what God has done in Christ by living wisely as we await the coming of the Son of Man.  We might look at the passages immediately preceding this one to see what living wisely entails.  These preceding passages suggest that working faithfully at our callings is the best way to be prepared.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Without gospel content we must use our imaginations to create the couplet.  Possible examples:  left out/invited in; having no oil/having an inexhaustible source of oil.

6.  Exegetical Work:  There has been a lively discussion down through the ages as to the allegorical identity of the various pieces of this parable.  Augustine argued that both the wise and the foolish maidens were members of the Church, but that the wise maidens - the ones with oil in their lamps - were the members of the church who practiced an enduring love.  He thought that the foolish maidens were those who were interested primarily in mere appearances, and they were even foolish enough to believe that works of charity could be purchased.  They were foolish mainly then, because they believed that the appearance of charity was all the Lord required, rather than an enduring love.  Augustine's entire discussion can be seen in the helpful collection Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 1b, pp.214-220.  Luther, not surprisingly, argued that the oil in the lamps was faith.  According to Douglas Hare, the most popular suggestion regarding the oil is that it represents good works.  He believes this comes from Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."  (Interpretation Series, Matthew, p. 285) In all cases, whatever the oil represents, it is considered essential in order to be admitted to the heavenly feast.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Cathy Lessman, in a very clever analysis, also picks up on the oil in the lamps as a central element, highlighting the "energy crisis" we all share.  She shows how Christ comes amongst us as the one who takes our place as one unknown by God.  Our energy source is restored and we are freed to share our energy with others.  See study for the entire analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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