We like to be ready. Prepared. And life keeps presenting us with challenges to our sense of readiness, preparedness.
Jesus tells a story about bridesmaids who knew something about readiness and unreadiness. They, according to the high standards of Near Eastern hospitality, particularly that of ancient wedding custom, await the arrival of the groom so to escort the couple to their new home. Not knowing the precise hour of his arrival, their lamps burn. At last, he arrives. The bridesmaids, aroused from slumber, prepare to greet him. It is midnight, requiring lamplight. Five have sufficient oil. Their lamps burn brightly. Five lack oil. Their lamps burning barely. They turn to the first. They speak. I wonder, in what voice. Plaintive, pleading in implicit, honest acknowledgement of their failing: “Give us some of your oil”? Or with entitled demand, being a desperate cover, a denial, really, of their personal responsibility: “Give us some of your oil”? The first reply. I wonder, with what tone. Haughtily, with schadenfreude-esque glee, callously disregarding the need: “No! There will not be enough for you and for us”? Or with sympathetic, but no less firm awareness that one’s prudent preparation cannot compensate for another’s negligence in the moment of immediate need: “No. There will not be enough for you and for us”? No matter really. The result is the same. The five without must look elsewhere for oil. By the time they return, the wedding banquet has begun. They are late. Left out. Locked out.
Tough story! About readiness and unreadiness. The blessing of preparedness. The fallout of failure. Given that this story comes near the end of Matthew’s account, immediately prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, when, in his last days of teaching, he makes pronouncements about the end of the age, it has an uncomfortable air of finality. The locked out bridesmaids are left out forever.
If this is what comes of a cathartic confession of one’s lack, then it is no wonder amid failure that so many often enough choose the dishonesty of self-delusion and denial. Be it God or you or me that I must face, if the judgment is one of condemnatory casting out, then I say, “No, thank you!” I’d rather lie, confessing no error, attempting to carry on, living with an illusion of control and the pretense of success.
Get ready. Still more to come…