August 26, 2016
Happy Friday! ... Today we are going to talk about the end of the world.
This topic has been so dramatized, by Christians and non-Christians alike, that the idea of even having a sober conversation about the fact of the world's end is a little weird.
I grew up in a Christian environment where talk of the end times was both pretty commonplace but also pretty bewildering. (I guess it's always pretty bewildering.) As a child sitting through many hour-long sermons, I remember the fear of God being put in me when my aging pastor, waving his finger at the congregation and walking in circles on the stage, would talk about the possibility of the end of the world occurring within the time of "the youth of this generation." My piano teacher; an ex-catholic, more fundamentalist-leaning Christian; kept pamphlets about "how the end times had begun" in an unsuspecting basket perched on top of her fluffy pink-decorated bathroom toilet. (Currently resisting the urge to make many bad bathroom/apocalypse jokes... Stay on target, Pintar.)
The point is, when we talk or hear talk about the end of the world, it usually consists of using bible as a book of clues, and the goal is to know WHEN the time of the apocalypse will arise.
But Jesus tells his disciples over and over again, "you do not know the time," "but you will not know the time," even going so far as saying (in today's gospel reading), "you know neither the day NOR THE HOUR" (my own emphasis). THIS is the resounding message of these passages in Matthew. Additionally, Jesus provides stories to illustrate that if you truly understand and believe with your whole heart that only God knows, you will ACT like it; you will stay awake, you will keep your lamp burning in peaceful vigil waiting for the Bridegroom.
...But those five virgins were so close! (This is what I thought at the first read.) It seems unfair, and kind of mean, that the wise virgins wouldn't share their oil in that time of great need. Isn't sharing property a Christian virtue? However, I think the wise virgins' response sums up how we each much take responsibility for our own faith in the end: "there may not be enough for both us and you." As harsh as this sounds, it's true, and our own experiences attest to it. There are times when we need to say no to others because our own closeness with God, the vigilance with which we keep the flame of faith burning in our hearts, would be compromised. Faith isn't just about giving, it's also about keeping and maintaining wisely.
What makes this story even more tragic is how similar the ten virgins are, in that they knew that the bridegroom was coming, they all fell asleep, and they all heard the announcement that the bridegroom's presence was imminent. They were all there when being there mattered! What differentiates the foolish from the wise virgins seems like a last-minute mistake (e.g. a fourth-quarter, three minutes left interception in the opposite team's end zone), but really, it was a much larger one (e.g. an entire season of poor practice and conditioning). The foolish virgins are foolish because they didn't think through and prepare for all the possibilities of how this evening could go; they thought the bridegroom probably wouldn't take that long. Maybe, they moved in haste and simply didn't have the peace of mind to think and take more oil for their lamps.
And how many times have we been foolish with the Lord's timing in our own lives? How many times have we gotten impatient, annoyed, even angry when Jesus does not work in the timeline that we place upon Him? And how many times have we foolishly embraced self-pity, thinking that "we are a part of the 'winning team,' so we aren't we being treated like it"? Luckily, right now, our mistakes so far have not resulted in such a tragic, finite end, but this is all the more motivation to begin now, again, in making sure our faith is rooted in a surrender to HIS timing, HIS ways, HIS story.
Here's a less tragic ending: Picture the beauty of the chosen five virgins in the night, their lamps quietly burning, leading the way to the bridegroom's door. The door opens, and their smiling faces are softly illuminated for the bridegroom to see, the beauty of the moment made possible by submitting to His timing.
The way Christians talk about the end of the world is a pretty good litmus test for how they view their own walk with Christ, I think. The extent to which we are truly Christ-followers will determine how serenely we approach the end of the world, and the end of our own lives. Both are not a puzzles to be figured out, codes to crack, or locked doors for which we need to find a key, they are long, dark nights for which we must keep vigil with the oil of faith and a life well-submitted to the ways of the One we await. He will open the door, not us, so we must wait for Him. We must slowly learn to love our own unmet expectations, for they always point to greater ones we do not yet see.