I have recently become an athlete. It’s true. I go to the gym and lift the heavy weights. I’m on a diet… more or less. I’ve lost 7 kilos. I feel strong. Oh, sure. If you look at me I don’t look very athletic. But, as part of my run-up to middle age I am getting in shape. For real.
Several years ago I became a teacher. Oh, not when I got the job. I’d had the job of a teacher for several years before I actually became one. My students in Burma made me a real teacher. They didn’t do it on purpose, but they forced me to take that role seriously. Teaching is not just about imparting information, it’s about forming the person.
I have become a lot of things in my life. There are other things that I’ve discarded. I am not a smoker anymore, for example. I discarded that. I am not a Republican anymore either. I discarded that too.
Some parts of identity have been easy to take up or put aside, some have been harder. Some roles I have taken on with willing enthusiasm, others have been thrust on me, sometimes painfully. The important things have been a long time in formation and have pretty much happened by the time I realized, “Oh, that’s who I am.” Even so, there has been a steady flow of taking on, casting off, lighting the lamps that have the oil.
In the parable presented to us this morning, we have a wedding. Of course, the parable is not about a wedding, or the bridesmaids, or their lamps. It is not even about oil. Let’s read this parable as an allegory for how we will live in the end times.
That’s what this parable is about, and the parables around it too. It is part of a collection of stories Jesus told his disciples about the end times when we usually think of trumpets and earthquakes, not weddings. And, yes, we think about who is ultimately going to get into the feast and who is going to be cast out. After all, these are brutal stories of people being cut up and cast into the outer reaches of nowhere.
Everybody is “saved,” by the way. We are all going to get into the feast. To say otherwise is to say that Jesus didn’t do a very good job of things. He was sent to save the world, and he did. The whole world. But what then of all that casting out? Well, we will not get through the pearly eye of the needle as we are. I know I’m not ready. There’s, of course, purgatory. That’s a doctrine, not a place. But, it’s real. What this parable describes is purgatory. Refining. Taking on that which we will become and sloughing off that which is not part of our real, true, and transfigured natures.
So, here’s the key to the allegory: The wedding is just another way of talking about our lives. It gives a setting. It’s significant, a wedding, but not a real wedding, just something important like a coming of age, or an awakening. The bridegroom is a way to talk about our executive functioning, the part of ourselves that makes decisions about who we are and who we want to become. The bridesmaids, then, represent parts of ourselves which we either embrace or choose to discard. We do that all the time. Sometimes it’s more dramatic than at other times, but we are always choosing who to be, who we are.
Eschatologically, then, we have to ask, “Who am I becoming?” and “How am I being transformed into one who is ready to go to the wedding feast?”
Don’t be afraid to cast some things into the outer darkness. Some things may need to go. Take up your renewed and transfigured roles with bravery and confidence. You were made for such things, after all.
As things compete for your time and attention this week examine each one to see which holds the oil of your own God-given passion, and which are just place-holders which may look good and holy but are really just empty lamps. Remember that in the parable all the bridesmaids thought they were going to the feast, but only those with oil actually got in. I am sure that all your lamps are beautiful, as are mine. But only some of your lamps have holy oil in them, some do not. Light the ones with oil!