23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27 November 8, 2020
1 [Jesus said,] Then the kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
In the Name of Jesus.
When Jesus gives a parable, we can hear it in one of two ways. We can hear it in the way of the Law, or in the way of the Gospel.
The Law way is the easiest; it’s the first way we will hear it.
As Paul says, the Law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Because the Law is written on our hearts, the Law is the way we naturally think. It’s the instinct of our flesh.
If you wrong me, the first thought my sinful flesh has is not, What can I do to bring to this person the gifts of Christ’s forgiveness?, but the first thought of my sinful flesh is, Payback!, Justice!, Get even!, The one who wronged me should have to pay!
The voice of the Law. It makes sense; it’s written on our hearts; it’s our first instinct.
So, with a parable, the first way we will hear it is the way of the Law.
So, if Jesus gives a parable of five virgins with enough oil for their lamps to wait for the bridegroom, and five who fail to bring enough oil, the first way we hear it is the Law way.
The five with enough oil, they have done a good work, they deserve credit. The five not bringing enough oil, they did badly, they deserve the justice they get.
And this all makes sense according to the Law.
So the sermon can simply be, Have enough oil, have enough faith, and you will be rewarded. Or, Don’t have enough oil, don’t have enough faith, and it’s bad news for you. With a sermon like that, everyone can go home happy, living under the Law.
But Jesus doesn’t give parables for the Law. He doesn’t give parables to teach how to do good works or how you must have a bunch of faith.
If Jesus did that, then he’s just a teacher of the Law, and they already had plenty of those.
And, the Law is written on the heart anyway.
We already had the Law. Moses gave it. The Ten Commandments spelled it out. Adam and Eve knew it, or else how would they have known how to feel guilty when they transgressed the Law?
We had the Law. Jesus didn’t need to come for that.
But he did need to come for the Gospel. So that, if we don’t hear a parable for the Gospel, then we are not yet hearing the parable rightly. We’re not yet hearing it for the purpose Jesus gives it.
The parable of the ten virgins, how is this Gospel?
If we’re looking at the virgins and their works, it’s not. Five virgins who do good, five who do bad. Now the parable is reduced to teaching us to do good and be rewarded, do bad and be punished. But there’s no Jesus in that, no Christ crucified, no grace, no mercy, no gift for the sinner.
But what if we don’t look at the virgins? What if we look at the one thing in the parable making no sense?
The bridegroom makes no sense. Matthew 25:6:
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
The bridegroom is delayed? What does that even mean? He’s delayed five minutes to finish combing his hair? He’s delayed ten minutes by a cow in the road? No, it’s all day he’s was delayed. But what bridegroom gets delayed? Not for five or ten minutes. He doesn’t come around all day. He doesn’t show up until midnight.
What kind of bridegroom is this? The parable makes no sense until we figure out the bridegroom.
The five virgins with oil, the five with not enough oil, that makes sense. As a matter of fact, we might even say that the five virgins without enough oil were the good virgins. After all, they were expecting the bridegroom to show up on time. They trusted him. They had faith.
The five with spare oil to burn not until the wedding’s appointed time, but actually all day, even until midnight, was that faith? Or was it to have no confidence in the bridegroom that he would show up when expected?
So, back to the bridegroom. That’s who Jesus is showing us. He’s the bridegroom. He is the groom who came to take as his bride the Church. As Paul says in Ephesians 5, Christ loves his Church. He gave his life for her. He makes her holy by the washing of water with the word. He presents his bride in all her splendor, forgiven, cleansed, and sanctified.
He is the Groom. We are his bride, the Church.
So now, take a quick look at the groom. He shows up when he wants. He shows up not according to our expectations, not according to what we can predict, not according to what makes sense to our sinful flesh, but he shows up when he chooses.
When is the Last Day when he comes again to judge the living and the dead? He is delayed. How long? We who wait don’t know.
Now we can see the Gospel of the parable.
A groom showing up as expected, predictably and how we would say he should, if he’s going to be a good groom, that’s all according to the Law. The Law is predictable, the Law is according to what makes sense. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth—you don’t get more predictable than that.
But a groom showing up as he chooses, regardless of when we think he should? A groom who doesn’t watch the clock, doesn’t check the days off the calendar, that groom will have us saying, But it’s just not right! It doesn’t make sense. It is against the rules and contrary to the Law.
But this groom is Jesus.
He shows up how he chooses.
This is Gospel.
Because this groom is the one who comes always to bring mercy over-against the Law, always to bring his bride into grace, always to give gifts in abundance, beyond expectation and without measure, with no rhyme or reason that would make sense except that he is the groom who loves his bride and bestows all the gifts of his Name on her, as he wills.
So, he shows up how he chooses.
When is the Last Day, when he comes to judge the living and dead? No one is given to know. But he will show up.
As we suffer in life, as we undergo temptation, and we ask, Where is our salvation, when are we delivered?, this parable has us looking at the groom and knowing, he will show up, though he seems delayed, but as we wait, we wait knowing that we belong to him, and his blood cleanses us from all sin.
As we endure affliction, and pray for relief, wondering how long is the pain, this parable has us looking at the groom and knowing he will show up, though for now he tarries, but as we wait, he is with us in his Word, and in his Word he is bestowing gifts upon us in abundance, without measure, beyond anything we could’ve expected.
Jesus is our groom. We do have that promise.
We are his bride, the Church—that designation was given us in Baptism. And this groom, though he tarries, though we cannot get control of his schedule, though sometimes the way he gives his gifts just doesn’t seem right to us as we live in our flesh which is under the Law, this Groom is the Groom of the Gospel, the Groom who cleanses and sanctifies his bride, the Church, with all generosity, without measure, beyond making sense.
Our eyes look to him. Our faith clings to his Word. Our lives are sanctified by blood. For him, we wait.
In the Name of Jesus.