Back in college, while I was working at the summer camp, I had the joy of being trained as a WSI and Lifeguard. One of the most important lessons we learned was that when someone panics, not only do they stop thinking, but they also react in ways that are counterproductive to their own survival. I am sure that you have seen images of the flailing drowning victim working so hard to keep afloat that they expend all of their energy when very little is actually needed.
For those who want to help, namely the lifeguards when a heightened adrenalin kicks in, if they were without proper training, there is a good chance they could cause a lot more harm then good. This meant that a lot of our training as a lifeguard were drills that taught our bodies to react differently. In order to save a life, the lifeguard had to be prepared.
This week we come to the familiar story of the 10 bridesmaids. This is a story that is interpreted very differently depending on your tradition and background. In some traditions it is used to create fear for those who are saved and those who are not, while other traditions often focus on vigilance. For me, and many commentators, this pericope has everything to do with patience, preparation, and training.
The wise women were wise because they knew that they needed to be prepared because there was a good chance that their oil would not last until the bridegroom came to take them to the party. While we don’t really know what the women who did not take the extra oil were thinking, we do know that they thought they did not need it. But the interesting, and chilling part of this pericope is at the very end “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’”
On one side you have to feel sorry for the women who missed out. I can think of all the modern arguments “they made an innocent mistake” or “come on, they were just as vigilant as the other why cut them off?” But here is the thing; they left. They left their post, they were not prepared and they dishonored themselves by not being present when the bridegroom came. More then anything else, they disrespected the bridegroom.
One of the things that separate those who believe from those who don’t is that we know better. We know what we need to do to honor God and we know what God expects from us. What Christ is really saying in this passage is that when he does come we are not going to know the time or the place. Like an unexpected windfall or tragedy, we just don’t know what will happen, but we do know that it will come and we can prepare.
Like the lifeguard who hope to never have to save a drowning person, they are always trained and ready for the moment. We need to be as well so that we are vigilant and ready for when Christ comes. Even if it is not in our life time, to know and understand God’s grace and love and to react not out of fear, but in a way which is honoring our Lord.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen