The Last Sunday after Trinity (27th Sunday after Trinity)
November 22, 2015 A+D
St. Matthew 25:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Old Testament and in particular the poetic and wisdom literature of the OT—like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, the words “fool” or “foolish” are synonyms for “sin,” “heathen,” “unbeliever,” or even “enemy of God.” Proverbs 1:7 reads: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” King Solomon does not mean that fools despise earthly wisdom and instruction. They despise rather the wisdom and instruction of the Lord, because they do not fear Him—they do not believe in Him. Those same OT books use the words “wise” or “wisdom” on the other hand to refer to the “righteous,” “faithful,” “friends of God.” Psalm 37 puts it this way: “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” The righteous are those whom God declares righteous in Jesus Christ. And from that mouth comes wisdom—the confession of faith.
So when Jesus tells His disciples a parable about five wise and five foolish virgins on the Wednesday of Holy Week about the final judgement, they understand the referent to one group who believes and one group who doesn’t believe. The difference between the two groups is not found in their outward appearance—they all bring lamps; nor is the difference in association—they are all virgins. Jesus’ point of comparison is the oil or the lack thereof. The comparison is that on the last day, when Christ comes again in judgement, the wise have faith and the foolish do not have faith.
First-century lamps weren’t made to be transported with much oil in them. So when Jesus says, “When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them.” His point is, their lamps would have been completely useless—lamps don’t burn without oil, and therefore it was utterly foolish to bring them at all if they weren’t going to bring oil. They either didn’t think there was a Bridegroom to go out and meet, or they thought they could meet Him on their own terms even if He came. Jesus is showing the utter foolishness of sin and unbelief. Unbelief in the Bridegroom is as nonsensical as bringing a lamp with no fuel.
In our own lives, with the aid of the Ten Commandments, we see a foolishness that dwells in us. It’s not a mental problem. It’s not a matter of not being smart enough. It’s a spiritual problem. In our minds, we know we shouldn’t yell and scream and lose our tempers at our spouse or our children. We know that won’t help the situation. We know it won’t bring about happiness. But we are overcome by our passions and give into our temptation to make ourselves feel better, and we act like fools. In a very logical way, we know that lusting after someone or taking something that doesn’t belong to us will not make us happy in the end. We know it’s wrong. We know in our minds (even if in the dark recesses of our minds) that a moment’s sinful pleasure will only bring pain for us and for our loved ones. We know that gossiping about someone behind their back is harmful to their reputation and divides even those of the household of faith, but we give into the guilty pleasure of a juicy story or an uncharitable tale. Holding a grudge is stupid. Refusing to forgive is a sin. These are all things that we know intellectually. But sin is not rational. It doesn’t make any sense. It can’t be explained. It can’t be educated, it must be exposed, confessed with contrite hearts.
The five wise virgins are not distinguished from the five foolish by how often they refrained from sinning. They are distinguished by what they thought of their sins. The faithful (those whom the five wise virgins represent), those who believe in the Lord Jesus, those who are baptized and worship God where He is found, you, see your sins and lament. You confess your sins and want to do better. You confess your sins and believe that Jesus can and does forgive them. That trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the oil of faith. Your faith, not your ability to refrain from sin, is why you will one day enter into marriage feast with your Bridegroom. This is the comfort of today’s parable.
And here’s another comforting part. If you are prone to doubt your faith, which oddly enough is a mark of someone who is truly faithful, then listen carefully. The part of the parable that we sometimes cringe at because it doesn’t appear to be nice, is actually for your comfort. When the foolish realize that their lamps are going out, they beg the wise for oil. When the wise refuse, it’s not proper to see this as stinginess. That’s not Jesus’ point. It’s not a parable about sharing. The wise refuse, because it’s not theirs to give. It’s not their own possession. It was given to them by “the dealers.” The foolish know who the dealers are but during their life, they refused to go and “buy.” They wanted nothing of the true faith. It was a willful rejection of the Gospel. Your faith is not your own. You have received it. The Lord Jesus sent His Holy Spirit into this world to work through Holy Baptism, through the preached Word, and through the Sacrament of the Altar to distribute forgiveness which instigates and builds faith. Both the wise and foolish know this. Only the foolish don’t believe it, and therefore don’t think they need it. The dealers of this holy commodity are the Christian Church and the ministers entrusted with these mysteries. This is where oil is received in this life.
This is a message of comfort to you on two accounts. First, you are not burdened with converting the foolish of this world in order to prove yourself to be a true Christian. You are not responsible for someone else’s salvation. No one is going to hell because of what you did or didn’t do or because of what you did or didn’t say. That includes people within your own household. Today’s Missionals err by trying to usurp what alone belongs to God—conversion. To be sure, the Lord may very well be using you to convert others by what you do or say in your proper vocations (that’s how He works), but the work is solely His—the responsibility His alone. You sin in these vocations, yes, but your sin does not keep anyone out of heaven. God is more powerful than your sin. He works even despite your sin. Being a Christian doesn’t mean fulfilling your vocation perfectly, but rather being wise means being contrite and confessing your sins against your vocation. That makes the angels in heaven rejoice.
Second, if your faith does not spring from within you, if it truly is a gift from God, as the Bible says, then the lies of the devil that cause you to doubt your salvation are proven false (exposed). Remember, the devil, the world, and your sinful nature do not want you to hallow God’s name [1st] or let His kingdom come [2nd], but God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders their evil plan and purpose; He strengthens and keeps you firm in His Word and faith until you die. He is the originator and the maintainer of your faith. He gives it to you based solely upon Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. Having a contrite heart, you do not add to or subtract from your salvation, nor could you. You are in the Christian Church because He brought you in. You remain in the Christian Church because He keeps you in the one, true faith.
This parable is one of comfort to the faithful and one of urgency for those outside the faith. You know neither the day nor the hour of the Bridegroom’s arrival. He will come unexpectedly, at time of His perfect choosing. At a time that is advantageous to you and to all believers. And yet, during this gracious delay, you rest confident in the congregation of the faithful, in the church militant. You gather to be fed with His Word around His pulpit and with His body and blood around His altar. You are not yet free from sin, but by His grace, one day you will be. When the announcement comes, you will trim your lamps with the oil of faith and go in to the wedding banquet of heaven that He has prepared for you. “Everlasting joy awaits; gladness and joy will replace sorrow and sighing.” (Introit). Thanks be to the Lord who is coming again.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.