Jesus tells a parable about bridesmaids, five of whom, without sufficient oil for their lamps, missing the bridegroom’s arrival, are locked out of the wedding banquet, unwelcome and unacknowledged.
But this story begins: “The kingdom of heaven will be like this.” When Jesus of Matthew’s gospel speaks of the kingdom of heaven the general reference is to the earthly messianic community, that first century Christian society to whom Matthew was writing, which is related to and distinct from the eternal, heavenly kingdom of God. As the plane on which the parable is fixed or the axis around which it revolves is less eternal and more temporal, its focus is not so much the end of the world, but this age and time.
This story, left to a solely eschatological dimension, with its everlasting judgment of failing, is entirely too final for great comfort or, I think, for good sense. This story, then, even in its judgment, is more fluid, implying a possibility of something beyond that seemingly irrevocably ultimate word of rebuke and rejection: “I do not know you.”
Good thing! I’m not sure that any of us is at all interested in being invited to a wedding banquet or, for that matter, a kingdom (even of heaven!), the door to which we, in the face of our failing, would find closed forever. For fail, at times, we do. Failure always is the risk of risk, the inherent hazard of trying. Even more, no one of us is perfectly competent, even in our exercises of gifts and skills that we possess, for we are not always at our best with our best. We fail. Still more, no one of us is omni-competent. There are many things we don’t and can’t do well. We, at most, are unevenly competent (although a friend once averred that that’s far better than being evenly incompetent!). Hence, we fail.
But this life, in our earnest living of it, seems to hold out to us a prospect of a second chance. To grasp hold of that possibility – whether understood as bestowed by the hand of a gracious God or offered in the occasion of each new moment of opportunity or granted and received within the working of one’s own heart or all of the above – offers hope in the facing of our inevitable failings.
A possibility of a second chance, even when we make a mess of things and fail to get it right in a moment’s time and, despairing, recognize that the moment once passed cannot be reclaimed, may help us hear that the eternal rejection or our internal self-renunciation, “I do not know you”, is not the last word.
A possibility of a second chance may grant us the grace to confess our failing in anticipation of living into the promise of growth, the door to which such painstaking honesty can open.
A possibility of a second chance may help us relinquish our right to be right, hence empower us to live in the moment, making the best decisions we can, living with the consequences, without the burden of having to prove how right the decisions and we are.
Are we ready? In a real way, I suppose, it really doesn’t matter.