Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost | Matthew 25:1-13
God by Lamplight
Ten maids there were. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
As stories go, it is a wonderful beginning. We hear these lines and know that the story might go anywhere. It is as though this is a Jesus version of Once Upon a Time. As with all great fairy tales, we do not think this is a true story, but we do believe that the story is made of truth. Anything might happen, anything at all, but we know that nothing good will come to the five foolish girls.
Most Christians hear this story, or the others like it, and think that it is about something called the Second Coming, the return of Jesus, the moment that evangelical Christians point to as the future and hope of humankind. They are probably right.
What if that isn’t the point, though? What if this story is about something different?
Let’s put it another way. How about the Trinity? Given much thought to the Triune expression of God as Father and Son and Spirit? Ever tried to explain it to a third grader? Ever tried to explain it to a grownup?
What am I talking about?
Suppose we work with the basic notion of God the Father, the pre-existent Other-That-Is-God, before and after and beyond us—the aspect or expression of God that is untouchable, unknowable, unapproachable. And suppose that we consider God the Spirit, the expression of God who is or can be everywhere, at any time, within and behind and around and through everything everywhere, all the time. And, of course, there is God the Son, who as the incarnate Christ was fully God and fully human.
All three aspects are God. All the time. Everywhere. So what makes us think—in the Kingdom of the Triune God—that we are only waiting and watching for Jesus? How about the Father? How about the Spirit?
Might not God the Father break into our lives? Certainly Moses would argue that it might happen. Might not God the Spirit blow across our lives? Certainly Elijah would say so.
Jesus promised his followers that he would return, that is plain. The manner and timing and form of his return was left less clear.
When the five wise maids take their lamps and flasks of oil to go and wait for the bridegroom to arrive, they don’t know how long they might have to wait. (Even these wise ones fall asleep—a word of hope for us.) Why were they wise? They were prepared to see.
We seem to insist that God appear to us in the form we expect. In that, we act as though we have never read the scriptures. In all of those stories, when did God ever do anything the way anyone expected? Why do we think that this surprising God will appear in our lives in the form and in the way that we are expecting?
If we open our eyes to see, we might be amazed at how often God appears, and in what forms. Today, God may have shown up as a child wanting a smile. Yesterday, we might have lost our temper with God when we thought we were only speaking to a waitress, as if anyone were ever only anything. Tomorrow, the Spirit might burst into our lives by way of a job, an illness, a flood, a gift, a stranger or a friend, and we will not see because God has not met our paltry and limited expectations of how, when and where God is supposed to appear, or how often, or to whom.
Once upon a time there were God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son. And with that beginning, anything might happen. Anything at all. Anywhere. Anytime. To any of us. Whether we are prepared to see or not.