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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 32, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 9, 2014

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Matthew 25:1-13

‘The Good Oil’

Our Gospel is about allegiance or devotion. It’s also about oil and light; fuel and energy; relationship and responsibility; Wisdom. God be with you ...

Jesus tells a parable about the kindom of heaven. The attendants or bridesmaids (“virgins”, Greek) symbolise, most obviously, devotion. The scene is one of bridesmaids waiting (with the bride) for the bridegroom whom they will welcome, and then, with the bride, escort to the wedding banquet. There are ten bridesmaids (very possibly another symbol of perfection, of pure devotion).

Complicating the scene is the fact that the groom seems to have been delayed. The ten young women, an idealised picture of the people of God, wait. Unsure as to when the groom will come.

Further complicating the scene is the fact that five bridesmaids are wise and five are foolish. Perhaps this is not so idealistic a picture of the church. Perhaps it’s quite realistic. A divided community. Enthusiastic, devoted even. But some wisely so, some foolishly. Some prepared for the task of welcoming the groom – they have oil sufficient for the night-time journey. Others ill-prepared for the task – they will, indeed, plead with the wise ones when the moment of truth comes – “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”

So, we have bridesmaids symbolising pure devotion. We have wise bridesmaids representing devotion plus preparedness. The oil symbolises something to do with this preparedness – that which makes welcoming and accompanying the groom (and bride) possible. That which makes possible a light. Something that, moreover, cannot be shared. We will learn, then, that these wise bridesmaids, unlike their foolish counterparts, are “known” by the groom. They are known.

There is a Jewish text from the Talmud. Rabbi Eleazer said, “Repent one day before your death”. His disciples were perplexed, and asked, “How is a person able to know the day of death, in order to repent before dying?” … “All the more reason to repent today!” exclaimed Rabbi Eleazer, “lest s/he die tomorrow, and hence … his/her whole life should be spent in repentance.”

Some scholars think our Gospel is concerned exclusively with early Christian expectations of Christ’s return. The suggestion here, however, is that the parable of Jesus, like the text from the Talmud, is about encouraging repentance – now – a new life – now – a new relationship with God and with one’s neighbours, especially the most needy, the most searching, the ardent and questioning – now – today – “lest one die tomorrow”.

Preparedness, patience, wakefulness (Eastern spiritual teachers use the term “beginner’s mind”) – all these have to do with how we live – how we wait for the Saviour/Wisdom – how we meet the One who comes in the name of our God – how we encounter God in the Scriptures, in the bread and wine, in the gathering of God’s people, in the neighbour who is different, in the Earth (where oil is most obviously found).

The oil symbolises faith, then – that which makes it possible for us to greet and accompany God and neighbour in the world. Faith that makes good works possible (just as oil makes light possible). Faith that is a relationship – in the name and Spirit of Jesus – with God, and therefore with all the friends of Jesus: the poor and the poor in Spirit (the humble saints the Scriptures depict as a bride of Christ [see Revelation 19:7–8]).

What kind of relationship do I have with the Saviour/Wisdom? What kind of spirituality do I nurture? Am I an enthusiastic bridesmaid, filled with devotion – good intentions – naïve beliefs – loud professions of faith? Or am I a bridesmaid devoted and prepared, devoted and patient and wakeful (which doesn’t mean anxious and awake all night – the wise bridesmaids are happy to sleep … and to rise – they will be ready to provide light when the time comes). Wakefulness means to be in relationship, let’s say friendship, with the groom. To know him, attend to him, minister to and with him, and, more significantly, to be known by him.

[A better homily than this would attend to the gender issues inherent to patriarchal wedding imagery. Our photo editor Claire Mahjoub has uploaded some brilliant images to Instagram (#sshphotos) – photos from the Reclaim the Night march in Hyde Park last week. One particularly brilliant image shows a young woman with a bold placard that reads: Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights. I’m glad to carry a torch for this feminist conviction.]

Am I a bridesmaid devoted and prepared, and a friend to the bride and groom? Not one of those who say, “Saviour, Saviour” without a real commitment. We read about such false disciples in Matthew 7. They know the words and even appear to know what to do – but do not do God’s will, and are not “known”.

Later in our chapter (Chapter 25) we have the account of those who are known – those who, humbly, have gone about feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. Not for the sake of rewards but for the sake of Christ and of human rights, and more …

We might well hear in this a wake-up call in regard to fossil fuel technologies (short-sighted, polluting, foolish). The five wise bridesmaids have fuel for the longer term, cleaner fuel, technologies based on renewable energy, technologies for a more just economy. Wisdom takes the longer view – and the broader view, incorporating concern/love for many thirsty-naked-sick neighbours (the Earth itself) in space and time ...

The Clean Energy Council estimates that 21,000 people are employed in the renewable-energy sector in Australia, which has grown significantly over the last decade as consumers find the use of renewable energy more palatable and affordable. In fact, 14.8 per cent of Australia's energy consumption now is from renewable energy sources (Michael Emerson, SMH).

Still, it’s important that we couch an imperative to love in properly gospel/evangelical terms. We can love because we are always and already loved. We are wise and foolish. We are caught up in the dance of Love.*

This gospel reality tends to sneak up on us, surprise us, outstrip us. I pray, this week, that you find yourself caught up in the realisation of this – that, empty-handed, you find yourself in receipt of love, your heart aglow with it; that those around you – those most dependent on you – seek you out, befriend you and confide in you – expressing the love of God who says to you, “Truly, I know you … N, I know you”.

Let’s complete the homily together: “What kind of spirituality do I/we nurture?” … Amen.

*The Five Virgins

There were five virgins
Who arrived for the Wedding of the Lamb
With their motor-scooters burned out
And their fuel tanks

But since they knew how
To dance
They were told
To stick around anyhow.

So that’s it:
There were five rowdy virgins
Without fuel
But really caught up
In the action.

There were then ten virgins
At the Wedding of the Lamb.

– Thomas Merton, Collected Poems