Ready or Not

Oil Lamp - photo by gurus

Do you remember playing the game Hide and Go Seek? I loved playing that game as a kid, especially at dusk during the summer. We would designate a certain area for the boundaries of our game because each house was on at least a half-acre. All of our houses were on hills with all sorts of trees, vegetation, and gullies making great places to hide. The best part was there were no streetlights, so unless there was a full moon, the shadows also provided a lot of protection from whoever was “It.”

There were so many great places to hide that sometimes it was hard to choose the perfect place. I remember, more than once, having an adrenaline rush because whoever was “It” was already calling “Ready or not, here I come” before I was settled into my hiding place! The key was to have the perfect hiding place picked out before whoever was “It” started counting. Then you were settled and ready when they started looking.

The other thing we loved doing was camping out in the backyard. We lived in a very wooded area with raccoons, skunks, and other critters so it really was like camping out. My sister and I, and the two sisters across the street, decided we’d camp out. Well, we heard the boys, who also played hide-and-seek with us, talking about how they were going to scare us that night.

Being smarter than they were, we decided to booby trap the backyard. Were they ever surprised when we were ready for them!

Wouldn’t it be nice to be ready for the surprises that show up in our own lives? I think most of us cruise through life thinking we’ll take things as they come, only to find ourselves, more often than not, caught off guard and unprepared for what life hands us!

Then add in the God factor. Where is God? Or, will I recognize when God shows up?

Whenever Jesus wanted to get the attention of his friends, he told a story. Jesus tells this story because they were cruising through life just as we do. Not only that, some of them had a deal with God: basically, we’ll go to church and even set up rules for how to live. But don’t expect us to be flexible or change the rules! They thought they were ready for anything by being regulated, rigid, and religious!

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But 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.” And 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.     Matthew 25:1-13

The point of this story lies in a Jewish custom that is very different from anything we know. In fact, it’s a custom that still takes place in many Palestinian villages.

Only of my seminary professors told us of his experience. As they were approaching the gates of a Galilean village, he caught sight of ten young women all dressed up, playing some sort of musical instrument, dancing along the road in front of their car. They were keeping the bride company until her bridegroom arrived.

My professor asked if there was any chance of seeing the wedding. The guide replied, “It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in two-week’s time. Nobody ever knows for certain.” He explained that one of the great things to do at a middle-class wedding, if you could, was to catch the bridal party napping. So the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night. He also mentioned that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp and that once the bridegroom has arrived and the door has been shut, latecomers to the ceremony are not admitted.

Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one has immediate and local meaning, and also a wider, more universal meaning.

In its immediate significance, it was directed toward the religious Jews. They were the chosen people. Their whole story was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah and they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. They found themselves shut out because they were unwilling to consider Jesus as God’s messenger or unable to see God in Jesus.

The parable has a couple of universal warnings too. It warns us that there are certain things that cannot be obtained at the last minute. A student cannot begin preparing on the day of an exam. It is too late to acquire a skill or character if they are not already possessed when a job or position presents itself. Similarly, we may think we have time to get things right with God, only to find out that if we had taken the time with God sooner, we could have been much more “ready” and much more prepared for what we would face.

This parable also warns us that there are certain things that can’t be borrowed. The foolish young women found it impossible to borrow oil for their torches when they needed it. A person cannot borrow a relationship with God; they must possess it for themselves. A person cannot borrow integrity for a situation; they must already be clothed in it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital others have amassed. We also cannot depend exclusively on past experiences because they may not be sufficient for the needs of the present.

We must accept and develop the spiritual relationship God extends to us for ourselves. When we draw on God’s resources for ourselves, we can be ready to meet whatever crisis or opportunity presents itself to us without warning. We will also be ready and able to give support or help when somebody needs it. Ready or not, here life comes!

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