On the Light of Hope
November 12, 2023
Matthew 25: 1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaid] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Today’s sermon is titled On the Light of Hope.
Anyone who, like me, depends on glasses to see the world clearly, owes a debt of gratitude to a 16th century Italian priest by the name of Antonio Neri. Neri became fascinated in the art of glassmaking in the late 1500s but glassmakers were few and far between. Glassmakers were very secretive about the process of making glass, but Neri was determined to learn and then share the details of glassmaking. In 1612 he published a seven volume treatise titled, The Art of Glass. With such detailed instructions, advancements in glassmaking accelerated and progress in optics led to widespread availability of lens for eyeglasses, telescopes, and microscopes, all because of the foresight (pardon the pun) of an Italian priest by the name of Antonio Neri. One could say he expanded the scope of humanity, both literally and figuratively.
I did not set about to discuss glassmaking today, but I knew that before we could approach this text from Matthew and learn what it offers us, we had to consider the scope of what Jesus was trying to convey. The scope is much wider than I thought. The scope of this parable encompasses the how, when and why of God’s influence in the world through Christ. We need a big lens to give us the proper scope and that’s not all we need. Even the biggest and most perfect lens is of no use if we do not have light. As the bridesmaids discovered, their lanterns were of no use without the oil to produce light to shine their way in the darkness.
This parable is the first of three that we will be studying in the weeks to come as we approach the season of Advent. They are the final three teachings of Jesus’s ministry, but the three parables were not offered to the general public; they were offered to his closest followers as they were all gathered together on the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus had been teaching in the temple for two days after entering for Passover, riding on a donkey, as the prophet Zechariah had foretold.
When we find him today in our reading, Jesus is speaking of the “kingdom of heaven.” Remember here that the more accurate translation would be the reign of heaven, or the experience of heaven. In this parable, then, Jesus is saying the experience of heaven is like this. Ten bridesmaids went to greet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise in that they were prepared with plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit and their light shining. Five of them were not prepared and as a result they missed the beginning of the banquet and they were not recognized when they finally arrived. Jesus concludes with the following statement: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Keep awake, Jesus says, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Many scholars agree that Jesus is speaking here of the parousia, the second coming, or what some call the second advent. Parousia (παρουσία) is a Greek word that means arrival or presence. It is a belief in the Christian, Jewish and the Muslim tradition that an age of peace and justice will be ushered in by a Messiah, the Christ, or the Prophet Muhammad.
In our tradition, there is an entire field of study around this phenomenon. It is called eschatology. Eschatology interests me not because of all the different theories about what the “end times” might entail; eschatology interests me because of the wellspring of hope that is central in Christianity, Judaism and Muslim traditions. Hope is something we all have in common and, Friends, I am latching on to commonalities wherever I can find them these days. Hope for a better future is something we share with people everywhere, regardless of religious similarities or differences, and that hope for a better future, for justice and for peace, shines like a light in the darkness.
Jesus uses the parable of the ten bridesmaids to remind his followers to stay awake, to not lose hope, to be prepared for something wonderful to happen, something we pray for often in the words “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth as it is in heaven. Theologian Rev. Mark Douglas writes that Jesus is asking us to “live in hope for what will be but is not yet.”
So, Friends, in this very moment when wars are raging in Ukraine and Gaza, as the ice caps are melting and countless numbers are grieving in the wake of gun violence, hope can be hard to find. It is as if Jesus is warning us with this parable, over two thousand years ago, warning us to prepare ourselves for times when hope is threatened by overwhelming despair. It is as if Jesus is warning us that the presence of God can break through in our hearts and in the world any time and any place, so we should prepare ourselves. How do we do that? What do we need?
We need to be able to adjust our scope. If the weight of the world is eclipsing our hope for the future, then narrow the scope. Take a break from the news. Focus on the people and animals and activities that bring light into our lives. Take time to fill our lamps; like the bridesmaids, we are wise if we do and foolish if we don’t. When our lamps are full we shine our light in the world and we can truly see. We can see one another, we can see what is happening around us, and we can see just enough into the future to dare to hope for better times for all of humanity.
In closing, Friends, I want to say how grateful I am to be part of a community built on faith and hope and love. Jesus loved humanity with a love so deep that he gave his life to prove that there is nothing to fear and there is every reason to hope. May the light of our hope burn brightly in these dark times. May the scope of our concern and compassion expand to include all of humanity, with no exceptions. So be it. Amen.
In the sacred silence, another world begins to unveil itself to us. Distances become irrelevant and the spaces between us are of little consequence. Our neighbors’ concerns are held tenderly, as if they were our own, and in these moments we are limitless…our capacity to love is infinite, for in these moments we are part of All That Is. God is within and all around us as we meet the demands of our lives. God grant us vision that sees beyond our shortcomings, vision that sees behind the violence, vision that shapes a path from where we are to where you want us to be. Guide us, O Holy One, we pray. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Romans, chapter 15: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”