Week of Sunday November 9 - Pentecost 22
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
"Teacher when will the world end and the Christ come again?"
No one knows. Not even the Son knows. Only the Father knows. Yet...
"The world will end when Satan repents and begins to follow the Way of Jesus. God will bring the world to its completion because then, when even Satan has returned to God, everything will be complete."
But not in Matthew. In Matthew 25 the doors shut early. Satan will never repent.
One of the listeners asked, "If everyone is to be saved— if the bridegroom delays until even Satan arrives for the wedding— why should I not keep sinning and enjoying myself? It does not matter. He will wait."
Why do they always fuss over the inconsequential details and miss the point? You would be the one who complained the shops would be shut at midnight and the virgins could not buy oil, so the story doesn't work. The teacher looked at him.
"How would you dare to continue in sin? How do you not know that your example of repentance might lead to the repentance of a mighty evangelist whose pleas for the Kingdom gave even Satan pause to think— and that even in your own life time? Would you risk the suffering of the horrors of the world and the death of innocent children continuing even one minute because you delayed doing what you knew to be right?"
Not in Matthew. You wouldn't share your oil. The Bridegroom will come at a time of his own choosing and the door will be shut. You wouldn't share your oil. Don't presume upon the love of God.
The point of the parable is clear. The Bridegroom is delayed, but the Bridegroom will come. A typical Jewish wedding is used to reassure people worrying about Christ's delayed return: Remember! The Bridegroom always arrives in the end.
And when the Bridegroom comes the door will be shut. No amount of knocking or crying for entry will unlock the door. As in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, once the door is shut, "a great chasm has been set in place." (Luke 16)
Lamps are a clear symbol in Matthew:
15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)
Our good works have a purpose. A careful reader might note that this purpose is not to get us into heaven, (or to make us look good), but to "give glory to [our] Father in heaven." Our calling is to show others the nature and love of God by our love.
Oil is a symbol in the tradition of Tanakh. It is a "metaphor for righteousness or good deeds (Ps 119.105; Prov 6.23; 13.9; Job 18.5; 2 Bar. 59.2; 4 Ezra 14.20–21)" (Levine et al The Jewish Annotated New Testament footnote to pp 47)
Don't run out of oil. Do not cease to do good deeds, for these are the proof of our love of Christ. In the great last parable at the end of the gospel's long commentary which prepares us for reading the passion narrative, it is love for Christ which lets us inherit the kingdom and the blessing of the Father. (Matt 25:34) No right doctrine, no clever theology, no correct answer. Only love for Jesus the Son of Man shown in love for others. Only love.
How much love is there?
In Matthew even the love of God has its limits. If we presume upon God's forbearing love beyond these limits then we will "go away into eternal punishment" (25:46) in an "outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (25:30) and "unquenchable ... eternal fire."(3:12, 25:41)
We can imagine a God who has a greater love than this. We can imagine a God who "not sparing his olnly son his own Son, ... gave him up for all of us. [W]ill he not with him also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32) A God who will wait even for Satan to repent. Which God will we imagine and worship?
The listener was horrified!
"You are making up your own Scripture! It says eternal fire. It says the door will be shut. You cannot avoid these things and remain true to the word. You cannot judge the Scripture like this!"
"If I am true to the word," answered the teacher, "I must be true to the whole word which is written. We all know eternal torment is there. Some argue that eternal torment is unworthy of God, and settle instead for simple annihilation. The Letters hint at a greater God.
Read these and ask yourself who is closing the door? Is the love of God so limited that God will close the door on those who are slow to listen and respond? Or is it us who close the door? Read these verses and ask yourself— imagine— of what kind of God do they speak?"
She looked at him, and spoke gently.
"Do I judge the word in what I say, or are you, in your closing the door to Love, and your refusal to be horrified by such a small God as this story imagines, being judged by the word?"
She spoke to them all.
"We are not gatekeepers of the Kingdom. 'Keep awake ... for you know neither the day nor the hour' when your love will be questioned. And at that time you will open the door to some child of God looking for love, or you will close it in their face. If you tell stories which limit the love of God you will limit the love of your own heart."
The story of the teacher: Ihave heard the saying that the world will end when Satan repents because then everything will be complete attributed to Origen. I have not been able to find any such reference, and suspect he was being used as the Morgan Freeman of his day. But the saying is true. I made up the story around the saying. (Back)
The readings: John 12:32, Acts 3:21, Romans 5:18, Romans 11:32, 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Timothy 2:4, Titus 2:11, Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:9.
I took this list of readings from a graphic from the movie Hellbound posted by John Shore. For a coherent, and very accessible, reasoning of Universalism I can recommend Universalism: A Summary Defence by Richard Beck. He also has an expanded three part series called Musings about Universalism on his blog Experimental Theology. (Back)
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