Because – Context Matters
Read along with me from Matthew 25:1-13 – the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. I’ve never been a big fan of this story. But we all need to pay attention to stories that trouble us.
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
— “But if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” —
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
— In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” —
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
— A smoldering wick he will not snuff out —
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.”
— Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —
“Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
– Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” —
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.
– In the city of God, they will not need the light of a lamp, for the Lord God will give them light. –
The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.
– But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. –
And the door was shut.
– “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. –
Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”
– If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. —
Well that was a different way to read scripture wasn’t it!? And now maybe you can see why I’ve never been a huge fan of this parable. It just doesn’t fit with so many other teachings throughout scripture. In fact, this story seems directly opposed to so much of what Jesus and others say about our faith.
- The story seems to see foolishness as bad, but Jesus says you must become a fool.
- Jesus begs us to stay awake with him, but the bridesmaids fall asleep… all of them.
- The so called wise ones do not share, but Jesus commands us to give to everyone who begs of us and to share what we have with anyone who wants to borrow.
- The groom lets in those who were there first and leaves out the ones who came last. But Jesus says that in God’s kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first.
You get the picture right? Over and over again in this parable, the story goes against Jesus teachings. So what is going on?
Well, in a word: Context.
Joanie had a seminary professor who would always say, “Context is everything.” And she is right! So, let’s look at context.
This section of the gospel of Matthew begins with these words:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.
Jesus says this kind of thing a lot when he is about to give a metaphor describing the kingdom of God. And typically he gives a short story or a simple metaphor. For example,
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
Short, simple, concise. Well, actually not so simple for us today and if you want to look more into that check out the sermon from July 31: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means. And actually, that another great title for the sermon today, but more on that in a minute.
Here in Matthew 25, Jesus again says, “The kingdom of heaven is like this”. Only this is no short story or simple analogy. There is a lot more going on than we see on first glance.
First, the story in itself seems to be about being prepared like the smart bridesmaids. But when the story is finished Jesus makes a different point. He says, “Therefore, Keep awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
So is it really about being wise and prepared? Or is it about staying awake? We know from stories like The Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus does focus on staying awake. So maybe that’s the point even though it doesn’t seem so at first glance.
Second, we assume the story is over in verse 12 and Jesus summarizes it in verse 13. The end. But that’s not exactly the case. Look at verse 14:
For it is as if….
This verse begins with the Greek word gar which means for or because. Gar is a word used when the thought of idea is not yet finished or complete and there is more to explain. Here’s an example…
Let’s say 20 of you got up and left right now. And I ask you, “Who is left?” …Because I can’t tell left from right.
Because totally changes the meaning of the question, right? We call a phrase like this a double entendre. And they can be quite humorous.
For example, I might say, “Oh yeah, I’ll fix her alright!” And you are probably thinking I am out to get someone, to get even, to get revenge. But, if I add, “…because I didn’t want her to have any puppies,” then the meaning of the first phrase completely changes.
Here are some funny ones from newspaper headlines:
Miners refuse to work after death. Are the miners scared or can they not work because they were all dead!
New obesity study looks for larger test group. Is that because there were not enough people in the first one or because the first group were not obese enough?
Children make nutritious snacks. Is that about cooking or about cannibalism?!
This week….. I was checking in on some fairly new folks here at Hood because a family member was not doing well and expected to pass on any day. I texted them and got a response that the family member “was sent home yesterday with hospice care.”
Now, I immediately began putting my thoughts in motion. There was lots going on and I was doing 2-3 things at once. But, I knew where things were heading, so I jumped right this assumption: “hospice was called in and he went home to be with God.” I focused on sent him home and assumed the with hospice care meant hospice was there with him when he passed. I know this is pretty bad of me right? It’s a rookie mistakes that I shouldn’t have made! But I did because I knew that the family member was not doing well and they had been making preparations for his passing. I did not consider it could be he was sent to his house because he was doing better or because they wanted him to be comfortable in his last days.
Because matters! It can completely change the meaning of what has been said!
And the parable of the 10 bridesmaids ends with a pretty big because. And the because comes in the form of another parable, the parable of the Talents.
We could easily assume the Parable of the Bridesmaids tells us to:
Keep awake because if you don’t you’ll get left out.
But that’s not it at all! The because here is not about getting left out. Look at the Parable of the Talents. The because is about what God has given you and how you should invest and multiply that gift! (That’s a really basic rough understanding of The Parable of the Talents.)
Keep awake because God has given you gifts that you should invest and multiply for the kingdom! That is what this parable is about! The Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids isn’t about being prepared for the second coming of Christ because if you don’t you’ll get left out of God’s kingdom. It’s about staying alert and looking for opportunities to use the gifts that God has given you.
The wise bridesmaids use what they had (their oil) to get into the wedding party, not to help their fellow bridesmaids. So if the story is about staying alert and looking for opportunities to multiply what we have, then we are left with a question:
- Are the wise bridesmaids right in using what they had to get in the party?
- Or are they wrong for doing that because they caused the other bridesmaids to be left out? Are they really being selfish?
Their oil could have been invested in the other bridesmaids and all 10 might have gotten in. But what they did was fear they might run out and so their oil did not multiply, it only got 5 bridesmaids in the party.
And that sounds a lot like the servant who hid the talent in the ground and only came back with exactly what he had been given.
And the context of the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids is the Parable of the Talents. And we are going to discover over the next two weeks that there is even more context because both of these parables are connected to a third parable which comes right after them: the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (where we hear that famous line – “whenever you served the least of these you served me.”)
For now, let’s stay awake just like the Jesus tells us. Let’s keep watch. Let’s look for context. Let’s read what is before and after the story to try to understand it better.
The Bible is full of little clues…words like because which help explain what’s really going on. And if that true for the Bible, think how it’s true for life as well. There are clues all around us that might help us better understand the world around us….whether it’s silly newspaper headlines or new friends who we just want to be there for.