Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 – Joshua assembles the tribes at Shechem, telling them to put away the gods they worshipped beyond the Euphrates, in Iraq/Mesopotamia, where Abraham came from. Choose this day whom you shall serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. The people agree. (So Joshua sets it up as a law and erects a standing stone.)
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 – Wisdom is radiant and unfading… One who rises early to find her will have no difficulty.
Amos 5:18-24 – Woe to those who wish for the day of the Lord. It will be dark and disastrous. I despise your festivals, religious assemblies, burnt and grain offerings, and songs. Take away your songs and instead let justice roll down like mighty waters and righteousness like an forever-flowing stream. ELW 717, 710
Psalm 78:1-7 – God set up a law in Israel. He commanded our ancestors to make his deeds known to their descendants, so that the next generation, children yet to be born, might know about them. They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 – The beginning of wisdom is a sincere desire for instruction. The desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.
Psalm 70 – Five verses: I am oppressed and needy. God, hasten, hurry up, and help me! Make those who say, “Aha! Aha!” be put to shame.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – We don’t want you be uninformed about those who are asleep, or to grieve as those without hope. When the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will meet the Lord up in the clouds, in the air.
Matthew 25:1-13 – The parable of The Virgins. The kingdom of God is like ten virgins, five foolish, five wise, waiting for their bridegroom, with their lamps. The wise brought extra oil. The foolish have to go buy oil and don’t make it back in time for the wedding banquet. ELW 677
Prayer of the Day
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. Keep awake | and be ready,
for you do not know on what day your | Lord is coming. Alleluia. (Matt. 24:42, 44)
Fuel for the Journey
Children’s Song: Give me oil in my lamp.
Can you believe it’s only three Sundays until Advent? The Sunday after this will be November 19, followed by Christ the King, November 26. Then December 3 is the first Sunday in Advent.
November is also the end of the church year. These three Sundays we get to hear three great parables from Matthew 25:
- Sheep and Goats
Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses in Matthew’s gospel. It is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), so called because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3).
The Lutheran World Federation has a hospital on the Mount of Olives. Eight years ago I visited this hospital with other ELCA bishops. All the photos here are from that 2009 visit.
Augusta Victoria Hospital is a church and hospital complex located on the southern sideof Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia, the compound was built in 1907-1914 by the Empress Augusta Victoria Foundation as a center for the German Protestant community in Ottoman Palestine, also building the slightly older Church of the Redeemer the tallest tower in Jerusalem’s Old City. The complex also includes the German Protestant Church of the Ascension with a 50-meter high belltower, a meeting center for pilgrims and tourists, an interreligious kindergarten and a café, as well as the Jerusalem branch of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology.
Augusta Victoria Hospital provides specialty care for Palestinians from across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with services including a cancer center, a dialysis unit, and a pediatric center. It is the second largest hospital in East Jerusalem, as well as the soleremaining specialized care unit located in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Because Palestinians cannot easily pass through the wall, pictured in a number of these photos, Augusta Victoria Hospital is a lifeline.
I know this is a bit of a tangent, but It is quite possible that Jesus was standing right here at Augusta Victoria when he spoke the words in Matthew 25.
In the first of Matthew 25’s three parables, The Parable of the Virgins, five foolish and five wise bridesmaids take their lamps to meet the bridegroom. When the bridegroom is delayed, it appears the wise bridesmaids have brought extra oil. The foolish have not, so they must go get some oil from the “dealers.” While they are gone, the bridegrooms arrives. The banquet begins and the doors are closed. They are left out. The parable concludes with the point: “Therefore, keep awake. You know neither the day nor the hour.”
Our brains are wired for stories. So the Bible uses stories to convey theology. Jesus too.
A traditional interpretation is that the delayed bridegroom is Jesus. The virgins are the church. Some are prepared with enough oil for the long wait. Others are not.
Augustine says in XLIII:
It is no easy question, who the ten virgins are, of whom five are wise, and five foolish… but if I mistake not this parable relates to the whole Church.
And again, later, he says:
In the “girded loins” is virginity; in the “burning lamps” good works… He who will not see what is evil, he who will not hear what is evil, he that turneth away his smell from the unlawful fumes, and his taste from the unlawful food of the sacrifices, he who refuseth the embrace of another man’s wife, breaketh his bread to the hungry, bringeth the stranger into his house, clotheth the naked, reconcileth the litigious, visiteth the sick, burieth the dead; he surely is a virgin, surely he hath lamps.
Question: What is this oil that some run out of?
There are many different interpretations. What guesses might you have?
Many interpreters like good works, because of what Jesus said earlier in the gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In 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)
If you think about it, however, Matthew 5 refers to the light given off by the lamp as good works. Let your light shine, so people may see…” If the light is good works, what might the oil be? What fuels good works? You can imagine what Luther said of course: faith. Perhaps Matthew is saying, “Keep the faith.”
Others have suggested that the oil is the Holy Spirit that empowers good works. Or the Word.
Augustine thinks the oil is love:
Some great, some exceedingly great thing doth this oil signify. Thinkest thou that it is not charity? This we say as searching out what it is; we hazard no precipitate judgment. I will tell you why charity seems to be signified by the oil. The Apostle says, “I show unto you a way above the rest.” Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” This, that is “charity,” is “that way above the rest,” which is with good reason signified by the oil. For oil swims above all liquids. Pour in water, and pour in oil upon it, the oil will swim above. If you keep the usual order, it will be uppermost; if you change the order, it will be uppermost. “Charity never falleth.”
Irenaeus of Lyons has this to say in Adversus Haereses II.XXVII.2
And when the Bridegroom comes, he who has his lamp untrimmed, and not burning with the brightness of a steady light, is classed among those who obscure the interpretations of the parables, forsaking Him who by His plain announcements freely imparts gifts to all who come to Him, and is excluded from His marriage-chamber.
Where to go with the congregation?
However one interprets this, it might be a good opportunity to ask people, what fills your spiritual gas tank, or oil lamp? What gives you joy, love, generosity?
What fuels good works in your life? Generosity? Compassion? Service? What keeps your faith, hope and love burning bright? Whatever it is, don’t show up to the party without it.
And ask people what they are waiting for? For what do you yearn, that is delayed? Justice delayed is justice denied. Is it coming?
When will Christ come? Matthew’s message is, we don’t know. But be ready.
Next week talents. Don’t bury your talents. Use them. For what?
The following week: Sheep and Goats: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome Strangers. Visit those sick and in prison.
The light of faith is a free gift. Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.