Here at the tail end of hurricane season (officially Nov 30th), let me ask you…. How many of you were prepared this past season, stocking up on extra flashlights and batteries? Extra water and food? Something to charge your cell phone? Of course, forecasting is pretty good these days, we always have advanced warning, and there is time to run to the store or borrow from our neighbors. Right? Given the scenes from the days preceding Hurricane Irma, I think that was most people’s strategy. But not all things in life are well forecast. Some rain comes down upon us without notice.
“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13)
I don’t think the real question is who is awake. The foolish bridesmaids fall asleep – but so does the wise bridesmaids. Everyone falls asleep. What is important is when they wake up. Who is prepared? Clearly not the some of the bridesmaids who want to borrow some lamp oil. They were ready for the groom but…not ready for the groom’s delay.
The great English scripture scholar William Barclay wrote:
(This parable) warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things which we must win or possess for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.
And this parable is about being prepared and possessing “the wisdom that is the perfection of prudence” (Wis 6:13). Prudence is a practical wisdom honed in experience that allows a person to navigate in the real world, making the best of the daily decisions that end up guiding a surprisingly large chunk of a person’s life. Ordinary decision that open or close doors to the future. Decisions that come before we are ready but must be made. Moments of decisions that come as silent as a whisper.
Decisions that hide within a high school chemistry class. My HS chemistry teacher was not very good, wanted to talk about life and baseball, and within a week it was clear we were not going to learn much. I remember thinking that I should transfer to Mr. Thansky’s class – but lots were expected of the students. While we were dawdling in Chapter One, they were already in Chapter Four. I stayed put, learned little, avoided chemistry in college, and suddenly found a nuclear submariner needs to know lots of chemistry and radio-chemistry. One small moment in high school took a surprising large chunk of my post-college career trying to catch up – and maybe I never really did.
If we are the bridesmaids, both foolish and wise (or prudent), as the church today, how ready are we followers of Jesus for his return? How ready are we for his delay? What does prepared, or having “enough oil,” look like almost two thousand years after Jesus died and rose again, promising to return one day, but not saying when? The wise ones in the church are those who are prepared for the delay; who hold on to the faith deep into the night; who, even though they see no bridegroom coming, still hope and serve and pray and wait for the promised victory of God. Who arise each day a live out our Hope in an obedience of Faith.
Such faithfulness requires endurance: Lots of us can maybe do this for a short while. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again. People who faithfully and joyfully serve the homeless event when they don’t seem to be making a dent – all while the promised bridegroom continues to be delayed. It is in the long delays that the oil runs low.
What happens when the oil runs out? I would tell you that collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blowout; it is usually a slow leak. It comes from operating with something borrowed rather than possessed.
The wise bridesmaids took stock, took inventory of what they possessed. Good advice for us – to take check the air pressure in our spiritual tires – see if we possess within ourselves the enduring faith, prudence and hopefulness of the promises of Christ. See if we are exercising those gifts. Or have we just borrowed these things and just use them from time-to-time?
One “cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it. [One] cannot borrow a character; [we] must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things which we must win or possess for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.”
The prudent Floridian will learn from this season of hurricane unpreparedness and realized we are always living on borrowed time – a hurricane is always coming, we just do not know the day or time.
The prudent Christian will learn from this parable and take stock, stock up on the one thing that matters – a personal relationship with God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. You can’t borrow it; you must possess it. Exercise it and live it.
Be prudent. Stock up.