The Waiting Room
Matthew 25:1–13 | Fourth Sunday in Lent | March 15, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
I’ve never liked waiting. Probably no one ever does. I didn’t like to wait for Christmas as a kid. I don’t like long waits at the amusement park. I don’t like to wait.
But maybe the worst place to wait, at least when I was young, was waiting in the doctor’s office. The waiting rooms of today are far more interesting. They are well-lit and have items to for people to read. But the waiting rooms of the 1970s were not such fun places. I would remember going with my parents to their doctor’s office and waiting with them for the nurse to call them in. One of their doctors had their office on the North Side of Flint. The waiting room was mostly poor paneling with no windows. Luckily there were some materials to read; I would read storybooks like the Little Engine Shovel and a picture book on the Bible. But I was still bored. I kept looking at the door to the examination rooms hoping that at some point the door would open and the nurse would call one of my parents name. I would perk up when the door opened and hoped against hope that they will say my parent’s name and…they don’t.
I could tell you other examples of having to wait, like waiting with my Dad and all the other men at a women’s clothing store in suburban Detroit while Mom and all the women shopped.
We like to say that we modern folk don’t like to wait, as if past generations had some extra measure of patience that we lack. But the truth is, not liking to wait is a human reaction. None of us like to have to wait. We just don’t. Especially when we don’t know how long we have to wait.
Jesus and the writer of Matthew must have understood this, because we have this story today that talks about waiting and being prepared. There are ten women who have been invited to a wedding. The come to the party with their lamps and waited for the groom. And waited. And waited. It turns out the groom is late, for what reason, we never know. But the wait is so long that the ten women went to sleep.
Sometime later, they are roused by a voice that says the groom is on his way. It’s then that five of the women realize they don’t have enough oil for their lamps. They talk to the other five women to ask about sharing their oil. The five wise women had say no- if they did, there would not be enough for any of them. So the five foolish women went out to find an all night lighting store to by oil. They get their oil and rush back to the wedding. However, while they were out, the groom finally arrives. He enters the house and the door is shut and locked. The five foolish women arrive to see the door is locked. They knock on the door and lo and behold, the groom is the one that answers from behind the locked door. They plead with him to be let in. The groom refuses by saying that he doesn’t know the women. The passage ends with these ominous words: “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.”
If we put this passage in context, Jesus is sharing a number of parables that all say the same thing: be prepared because you don’t know when Christ will return. In Matthew 24:36–44 Jesus tells people that they must always be ready because you would not know when Christ returned:
36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One.[f] 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One[g] will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. 42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. 43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One[he] will come at a time you don’t know.
That’s the point this parable is making. The women, all ten of them, didn’t know when the groom would arrive. Five of them prepared, by having enough oil to last them. Five others were not ready, having packed too little oil for their lamp. Notice that all ten women fell asleep waiting. This is a reminder that it is hard to wait for the arrival of Christ. The cares of the world will come our way and keep us unfocused. And yet, five of the women who fell asleep had enough oil to light their lamps while five others didn’t. Then there is the issue with the lateness of the groom. It seems that if the groom was on time, then there wouldn’t have been any problem. But the fact of the matter is, there is no excuse for not being ready in Christ’s book. None of us know the day or hour so we have to always be ready.
When I was younger, I used to think being prepared meant that I had to believe all the right things. In fact, the people who were “left behind” were those who didn’t believe. I still think what we think about God, Christ and salvation matters, but as next week’s text will tell us, we are called to be busy while we wait. God wants us to be faithful to God, to make disciples, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit those in prison. Part of being prepared for Christ’s coming is to be about doing God’s work while we wait. God is coming and being prepared means learning to follow Christ in all that we do.
I want to close with a true story I read on the blog of Doug Skinner, a Disciples pastor in Texas. In early February, Muslims from across Texas gathered at the state capitol in Austin to learn about Texas government and how they could take part in the political process. This is how the Dallas Morning News described what took place:
Texas Muslims rallying at the Capitol on Thursday were greeted by insults from a small group of protesters… More than 200 people came to the rally, hosted by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to learn about government and political engagement and discuss issues with lawmakers. About two dozen self-identified Christians protested nearby, shouting, “We don’t want you here!” and “Go home!” as children in the crowd grew visibly upset. At one point, a protester grabbed a rally-goer’s microphone to declare Muhammad a “false prophet.” The incidents were unusual conflicts in what is usually a quiet ritual of a legislative session — groups representing interests from religions to professions to areas of the state spending a day meeting lawmakers for citizen lobbying. …It was the seventh straight organized visit to the Capitol by Texas Muslims. A spokeswoman said the hostile reception was a first. …At the rally, which included singing the national anthem and speeches about political engagement, protester Christine Weick nearly knocked over Ruth Nasrullah, a spokeswoman for CAIR Texas, to claim the microphone. “Islam will never dominate the United States, and by the grace of God, it will not dominate Texas,” Weick shouted. After regaining control of the microphone, Nasrullah said the outburst reminded attendees why their presence was necessary at the Capitol.
What does this have to do with ten women and a late groom? Our lives are spent in a waiting room. At any moment, the door could open and Jesus will return. What will we do while we wait? As followers of Jesus, we are called to wait and in that time of waiting we are to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. The proof of our faithfulness to God is how we treat others. If we really believe in Jesus then we will live as if God is coming today. I have to wonder if the protestors in Texas really believed that God was going to show up. Do they understand that God calls them to be agents of healing and not division? Are they wasting time; not noticing that our groom, Jesus Christ, could come at the door at any moment? It just seems that they can’t imagine that God is coming and that they need to be ready. Being ready means being merciful and doing justice, not deciding who is God’s favorite or not.
Make no mistake, God is coming. We don’t know when. We know that some will be ready to receive God’s arrival, and some will not. Some will be rewarded, and some will be judged and we don’t know who is who. So, let us continue treating our fellow sisters and brothers with love, let us continue to honor God and seek to be a faithful disciple.
Jesus is coming. Look busy. Thanks be to God. Amen.