We do a lot of waiting. Just generally, in life we do a lot of waiting. But lately, it’s been particularly tough waiting. As the pandemic drags on, we’re waiting, not even for it to end anymore, but for the next announcement of case numbers, the next change in guidelines, the next closure or the next much needed support program. We’re waiting for test results – of all kinds – waiting for programs to come back, waiting for jobs. We’re waiting for election results. We’re waiting for peace. We’re waiting for news, good and bad.
We’re waiting for Jesus.
And that’s not your general waiting. We might be waiting for Jesus because Christmas is coming. We might be waiting for Jesus because, just like the earliest followers of Jesus, we heard him say he’d be back and when he did it’d be the end times and judgement and death and destruction and only the righteous (like us, we hope) will be saved. We might be waiting for the next moment we see Jesus alive and at work in the world, in each other and in ourselves. We might be waiting for Jesus because we just really feel the need for Jesus right now (please read previous sentence again – and again).
In Matthew, when Jesus talked about “coming back” in the days just before he was arrested, he talked to the disciples about waiting and being prepared for his return. He told this story. He said there were ten bridesmaids, waiting for the groom to come to the wedding banquet. Five were wise because they brought additional oil for their lamps, while five were foolish because they only had what was in their lamps. The groom is delayed and everyone goes to sleep, only to be awakened at midnight with the warning that the groom was coming. The foolish were out of oil and asked the wise to give them some. The wise said no because there wasn’t enough for everyone and sent the other five off to find more. While they’re gone, the groom arrives, the party starts and when the others return, they find themselves locked out. The groom says they don’t even know them. “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
So. Be prepared. That’s how we’ve interpreted this story. The wise are prepared and are the ones who get to the party with Jesus, the bridegroom.
But what does that mean? How should we be prepared? What’s the oil in our lamps today? And how might that help us when we’re waiting for all those other things?
What if this wasn’t a story about being prepared in the future, but rather about what is right now. We admire those who have much over those with little. And when those with little are in need, we don’t always share equitably. No, maybe there’s not enough oil for everyone, but if we shared, we’d share the time in the darkness as well as the light. We send people away and find a reason to exclude them. Worst of all, the groom – who could easily be us – seems to be apathetic to the situation (which they caused by being late) and okay with excluding people. What if this isn’t the example of how to be prepared, but the opposite?
Maybe the “how to be prepared” isn’t a couple of paragraphs near the end, but the entirety of the life lived before it. Maybe the best way to “keep awake” and “be prepared” is to share equitably, support each other, include everyone, build relationships, be empathetic and compassionate. And maybe even be on time. Or at least true to the good that is in us.
Don’t just sit around waiting. Be Jesus. Live.