Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
I am a female older sibling; I was an only child for exactly 2 years and 10 months of my life. It may come as no surprise to you, then, that I am Type A through and through. I am always early, always (over) prepared and embarrassed if I’m not. I flush easily. I plan ahead to very minute detail, and I appreciate external approval. I now would like for you to acknowledge, dear reader, my self-awareness about my neurotic tendencies (…and my self-awareness about asking for approval about my self-awareness. This is getting very meta.).
Imagine reading the Gospel text this week about the Kingdom of Heaven from my perspective.
Long story short, it 100 percent stresses. me. out.
There are 10 bridesmaids. Five are wise and five are foolish. Five take extra oil with them for their lamps while they’re waiting on the bridegroom (like the tennis shoes I lugged in my pack on a 32-mile, 3-day hike this past summer – JUST IN CASE my other shoes failed me. I never wore them.) The five who take the extra oil are ready to go when the bridegroom shows up late. The five who don’t? They completely miss out and are actively denied entrance.
At this point my Type A brain goes into overdrive. MUST AVOID being locked out! What do I need to do to prepare? Where do I get the oil, so I can stockpile it? What is the 2014 equivalent of lamp oil, for God’s sake? There is NO WAY I will stand for the indignity of being locked out! I would melt into the ground from shame if that happened. Take every precaution to avoid, avoid, avoid that situation. Figure this out NOW!
It wasn’t until I sat with the text for a bit that it dawned on me. They were preparing to attend…
Wait for it…
…the wedding banquet. aka A PARTY. Like a drinking-dancing-celebration PARTY.
And who gets Type-A stressed out about going to a party? (Now if you were hosting the party, that would be a whole ‘nother can of worms, but we’re just showing up for the fun – so roll with me here.)
Answer: My grandpa would definitely not get stressed about going to a party.
Consequently, it’s the first year my family celebrates him as a saint of the church. He (a younger brother, for what it’s worth) died in September about two weeks short of his 97th birthday. Despite the fact that he had a strong competitive streak (matched by a winning record as a coach in the Durham, NC, public schools for almost 30 years), he was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. If you asked him to decide on what he wanted for dinner, what he wanted to watch on TV or some other preference between two choices, you were very likely to get a drawled drawn-out and totally sincere, “Whatever,” in response.
But he was no less prepared for the party.
At every family meal that he blessed with grace, he asked only to someday, “see the Promised Land.” Before it was a bad idea for him to drive, he delivered Meals on Wheels. He attended church and Sunday School faithfully. Even when his mind had failed him and he couldn’t re-member the question he’d asked literally 2 minutes ago, he read from a daily prayer book and found joy and comfort in it. He loved God and neighbor, and they loved him. That church was full at his funeral.
Papa’s life is an important corrective to my gut-check reading of this passage.
It’s not so much the moment-in-time decision you make to stockpile lamp oil that matters in the end (or at all). It’s the habits that you develop in community with the other bridesmaids that pre-pare you and gain you entrance to what’s to come. It’s the meals that you deliver, and the hands that you hold. It’s the greetings that you offer and the ear that you lend to others on the same journey. It’s the work that you’re doing to love God and love neighbor.
And all that work that you’re doing? It’s not preparation for endless drudgery. It’s preparing you for a big ole’ now and not yet party.