Year A, Proper 27
Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
St. Paul’s Brunswick
I love my big brother, Matt, or Doodle as he is lovingly called in our southern family. While, like many siblings, we have had our moments and likely always will, he remains one of my favorite people to adventure with. From exploring our backyard creek as kids, to camping trips on Cape Hatteras and kayaking with dolphins as young adults… we have had a blast over the years getting outside and playing. I’ve learned so much from our adventures. I’ve learned about laughter and bickering, safety and danger, about the beauty of connection that fills me up… And I’ve learned the power of preparedness.
When I was about fifteen years old and Doodle seventeen, the two of us along with one of his friends, spent a chilly November day in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We went to Luray Caverns, a corn maze, and then joyfully found a trail along Skyline Drive. We had not yet had lunch and really had no supplies on hand… no water, food, first aid, and I was literally wearing Birkenstock clogs. We weren’t really “hike ready”. We were NOT prepared. But nonetheless, a couple of hard headed teens headed down the trail “for just a bit”. After about a mile or so we passed a rather exhausted couple who stopped to gulp air and water alike. They shared they had been out on the trail much longer than they thought they would be. I remember a short moment where my “this isn’t a good idea” meter went off, but I quickly let it go and caught up with the boys. Y’all… BIG MISTAKE.
The long and short of it is after HOURS of hiking, the sun setting, a few slightly panicked calls to the nearest ranger station, we found our way out of the woods. VERY hungry, cold, tired… and myself vowing the never follow my brother unprepared again. I learned SO much about the need to be prepared. To take the time and effort to have the things that sustain me, that keep me going no matter what unfolds. No matter how long I am wandering in the woods.
Like any good teacher, Jesus knows the power of story… and this story, while at first seeming to be simply about wedding prep, is a story that is unique to Matthew, and is about SO much more. Yes, weddings are emotionally loaded and stressful, and I think Jesus knew that, AND this thread of preparedness by way of extra oil is one we must hold on to.
So, we have these bridesmaids, often labeled the wise and the foolish. Half of them have extra oil for their lamps and it turns out they need it! The others don’t. The groom is so late they find themselves waiting well into the night. When the wedding actually gets going only the ones with extra oil are ready for the event. The ONLY difference between the wise and foolish is the wise were prepared to wait (FOTW, 286). They had not just what they thought they would need, but they also had a reserve to pull from.
For me, one of the hardest moments of this passage is when the “wise” refuse to share their reserves. And this is when I have to turn to the scholar that lives in my brain and be reminded that in this particular ancient Hewbrew context, knowing that Matthew spent a lot of time on the importance one’s own journey and good works, that oil is a metaphor for righteousness and good deeds (WBC, 476 and JAB, 46). The good deeds we do like caring for one another, pledging our time, talents, and treasures in various ways in various communities. And the righteousness of the many things we do to care for and grow ourselves.
The truth is, “We cannot just share our spiritual reserves, developelment, or preparedness”, they are not resources to be borrowed (FOTW, 287). They are resources that we must all spend time cultivating. Yes, we inform and walk with one another along the way, yet we must all tend to the work of filling ourselves up and tend to our spiritual growth. In fact, that, to me, is part of the message here, “…to prepare to wait and to avoid assuming that we have enough (knowledge, faith, love, etc.) in our lamps right now” (FOTW, 288).
This is hard. We live in a fast paced world of quick band aid fixes, instant gratification, and wholeness measured on busyness. To carry on Matthew’s metaphor, keeping extra oil on hand is counter cultural to the world we live in. And… that is who God calls us to be. To be set apart and remember that we belong to God. We never know when God’s kin-dom will break into the world. Caring for ourselves and others is part of being prepared to wait… to have extra oil on hand.
Extra oil, being spiritually prepared, “asks us to live in the hope for what has been promised and what will be but is not yet… It reminds us that knowledge, faith, and love are tools for living in the time before eternity, not tools to gain entrance into it.” (FOTW, 288) THIS is not just extra oil, it is Christian hope. The story is still unfolding… we are still co-creating with God and we do so with faith, courage and in hope! We do so as the wise ones, faithfully trusting that the, “world and each one of us will one day be transformed and fully reconciled to God” (FOTW, 287). And in the meantime, the wise remain constant. Light shining in good times and when we are still waiting for God… wandering around lost in the woods.
Friends, we can not put off this work. The story reminds us that the door does eventually close. There is a finality of life and we must tend to the life we are living right now. Be prepared … be prepared right now.
I’d like to tell you that I lived up to my vow to never follow my brother on an adventure without being prepared again… that for hard headed me was a lesson I had to learn a few more times. Now though, when I go hiking, I carry a little emergency kit with me. A bit of extra oil, if you will, in case I find myself waiting to get out of the woods.
In this last week, it may indeed feel like we are those bridesmaids waiting for events to unfold. Or like we are lost on a hike that seems to never end. It might feel like our lamps are lit… now what? The work of love, peace, and justice continues to unfold and will always be what we are called to in the world no matter what. No matter who is in the White House. No matter the reason to lament or protest or even rejoice. No matter what… the work of the Body of Christ remains the same. We are reminded of that today when Jesus tells us to not just be ready right now, but to make sure we have a reserve to draw from.
My siblings, now is the time for us to continue the work of being prepared. Filling our lamps. To know and trust in your reserves and holdfast to them. For God will truly break into the world, we need only to keep enough oil on hand. Amen.
Feasting on the Word
Jewish Annotated Bible
Women’s Bible Commentary