Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +21
November 6, 2011
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
Weddings are big, fat, complex affairs as it is (just ask Kim Kardashian!) For your
typical modern-day wedding, planners are hired, thousands of dollars are spent (frequently on the ring alone), and a small army of people are mobilized to do everything from catering to invitation-design. And that’s just for one day.
The nissuin was the “big, fat” part of the wedding, where the bridegroom came to the bride’s house and took her to her new home that he had made for her, where their marriage would be consummated. Surrounding this event was a major league PAR-TAY that lasted seven days, with non-stop feasting, drinking, dancing and music. The nissuin was a major community event where families came together, business was transacted and neighborhood gossips would make note of which future matches should be facilitated. It was an occasion of supreme joy.
Jesus makes frequent use of weddings in his parables and miracles. His first miracle in the Gospel of John was turning water into wine at the nissuin at Cana. In the parable of the Ten Wise and Ten Foolish Bridesmaids – which is this week’s Gospel reading – Jesus tells a story that takes place in the time between the kiddushin and the big, fat nissuin. It’s the time right before the groom is scheduled to show up at the bride’s house to take her away to her new
home (and a great, big seven-day PAR-TAY). In Jesus’ time, it was the tradition for the bridesmaids to stand vigil on the night before the arrival of the groom, to alert the bride and her family when he and his party arrived.
The night was full of anticipation! The ten wise bridesmaids brought extra oil for their lamps, but the ten foolish bridesmaids did not. So when the night wore on and their lamps burned out, the ten foolish bridesmaids had to go buy oil. And, of course, when does the bridegroom arrive? When they’re off buying oil. The foolish bridesmaids miss the procession to the groom’s house and, when they knock on the door asking entrance to the nissuin, they are left out in the cold.
This tale is usually interpreted as a cautionary tale of watchfulness for the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Be prepared! Be alert! Don’t fall into sloth, gluttony or any of those other Deadly Sins! Jesus is coming – look busy!
But if we look at the meaning of oil in the Old Testament, it isn’t a symbol of purity – it’s a symbol of happiness: “How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes!” (Psalm 133:1-2). The foolish bridesmaids didn’t get left out because they were sinful – they got left out because they were literally burned-out. They had no joy left to fuel their lives or their faith. So they go looking for joy in all the wrong places, and miss out when the wedding party arrives.
How do we get to the point of burn-out? It’s generally when we give our lives, our sanity and our resources over to the things that suck the oil out of our lamp. In other words, we make the foolish mistake of making gods out of things that are not God (see previous post “American IDOLatry“) . We unconditionally trust things that are not life-giving or soul-growing. We get into addictions, compulsions, slavery to work, status or body image, then before we know it we’re sucked dry and left out in the dark and cold while everyone else is at the PAR-TAY.
So if the oil of gladness is the fuel for our lamp, what is the wedding party? Well, if Christ is the Bridegroom, most people interpret the wedding party as the parousia, or Coming of Christ. The parousia is typically seen as this other-worldly event that takes place ‘up there” in Heaven, where the souls of the saved are united with the Lord. But what if the parousia is the coming of Christ-consciousness right here, right now? What if the big, fat nissuin is the joy that we can have together when God’s chesed (unconditional, Covenant-backed love) is at the center of all our lives? Now that’s a party! Don’t let your lamp run dry in the meantime!