After preaching for a congregation’s 50th anniversary, I was sitting in the church basement at a table, eating roast beef and potatoes with some of the parishioners, when our conversation turned toward anniversaries. “I wish I had known her sooner,” Jim said. He was relaxed, sitting there with his wife Becky. They were both in their fifties and had been married ten years.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Jim shared how things in his life would have been different if he had known Becky earlier, when he was younger. “She’s been a good influence on me,” he said, and then he elaborated.
At first, he was joking. He would not have partied so much. Those trips to Las Vegas in his thirties would not have happened. But as he went on, his tone turned serious. “It would have been good to have someone there when mom died,” he said. “That was rough, alone.” At that point, he stopped talking and we stopped eating. His words sunk in. “I wish I had known her sooner.”
I think we have all had people in our lives we wish we had known sooner, people who changed us. Our lives would have been different if we had lived longer in their company. That blessing of companionship is what I would like you to think about as we listen to this reading from Matthew.
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is harsh. Jesus is warning His disciples about the second coming. There will be a time when Jesus returns. The moment of His return is the end of the opportunity to believe: You either believe or you do not. You are either saved or damned. It is that simple and it is that stark.
There will be a time when Jesus returns. The moment of His return is the end of the opportunity to believe: You either believe or you do not.
For those who are accustomed to living in the spiritual land of opportunity, the parable is frightening. It systematically strips away all of our defenses.
There will come a point when there is no more time to believe. On that day, just being in the company of other Christians will not do it. All of the bridesmaids are together but not all of them are saved. Relying on the faith of others will not do it. The foolish bridesmaids cannot borrow oil from the wise. Having the right intentions will not do it. Though they want to buy oil, the foolish bridesmaids cannot secure it and find themselves locked out. Relying on the fact that Jesus will not snuff out the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed will not do it. A time comes when the door closes. The wick is snuffed out. The reed is broken. And, when the door closes, it closes. Even if you stand out in the dark crying, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” He will say, “I do not know you.” Our god of second chances is suddenly gone. Our god who, when he closes the door, opens a window, is nowhere to be found. This time when God closes the door, He locks all the windows and pulls down the shades.
The parable is harsh. It judges. If you do not believe, you will not be saved.
But let us pause for a moment and think about why Jesus is telling the parable. Let us look behind the hardness of His hand to the softness of His heart.
Jesus wants all people to be saved. Jesus has come to bring salvation to sinners and to initiate the gracious rule of God leading to the final restoration of all things. Jesus wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth… and His love is so strong, His desire to work in your life is so great, that He wishes you would know Him sooner rather than later. He wants you with Him now, rather than just on the last day.
Jesus wants you with Him now, rather than just on the last day.
Jesus does not want to be a figure hovering on your horizon, someone you always intend to get to know. Jesus does not want to be a friend you call as your lifeline, your last-ditch effort to get yourself out of a jam. Jesus does not want to be your backup husband, the one you turn to when all the others are gone. No, Jesus wants to be more. He wants to be your only bridegroom, your only Savior, the only One who loves you into life – a life you had no idea existed, a way of being you could not have dreamed of. And Jesus wants to do that now.
So, what He does in this parable is scare the living daylights out of us. He condemns those who are ignoring His call, those who are pushing Him away, those who are letting Him hang out in the margins. To this half-hearted spiritual dabbling that looks at Him as one of many options, He says, “No.” He pulls back the curtain and reveals how on the last day, He will be the one who comes with all the power and all the glory. He will open the doors to those who are His and He will shut the doors on those who are not. And He wants you to be His, to live in His kingdom… not just in the end but today. Jesus does not want you to wish you had known Him sooner. He wants to know you now.
So, if you do not know Jesus, this shocking parable is His way of getting your attention. He has come to save you. If you do know Jesus, this is your moment to sit back and give thanks for the things He has done. Rejoice in His love and give your heavenly Father thanks that Jesus is part of your life.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 25:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 25:1-13.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 25:1-13.