A) 25: 1-13
After several consecutive scenes where Jesus is constantly attacked by his enemies (& counter- attacks effectively!) now he gives his friends a watchword. 'Be prepared!' The message of other eschatological passages, too. But a story's more interesting than a mere motto. Better, too, to leave the message simple. The story of the bridesmaids is so simple it doesn't bear much elaboration.
Earlier, Jesus has been talking about the coming destruction of the temple & the inauguration of God's Rule consequent upon this. What better way of marking The Event than with a party; a wedding party at that! God's into celebrating! With us. By marrying us! (No longer is it a case of ‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’!) It’s not dependent upon temples, wars & rumours of wars, any of that. Jesus, a keen observer of all that goes on around him, uses the homely imagery & excitement of wedding preparations. Just as now, someone's forgotten something. The oil in this case. In ours, maybe it's more likely to be the corsages, or the ring(s), the hire-cars are late, the photographer's out of film! We all have stories about such happenings & such people.
We're all, or have been, a 'foolish bridesmaid' in some sense, of one
kind or another, at one time or another. Jesus' point is that faithful
disciples who recognize & place themselves under God's Rule are always
ready & prepared to play their role in the ongoing story of God's 'marriage'
to us, & its equally
ongoing celebrations. Others, sadly may exclude themselves by being off-handed about God's invitation(s).
Do any of those listening to our preaching fall asleep waiting not for the Bridegroom to come, but for us to stop? Are we catching everyone up, Jesus style, in story-telling? Helping us all see ourselves as participants in an ongoing story? Not just expounding theology, Paul's or anyone else's?
There's another 'dig' here (cf. chapters 20+) as well as an eschatological
lesson. Are we, those newly called to serve in some capacity at present
or future Messianic feasts better prepared than the old team back there
who can't even recognize the Bridegroom who's come among them? The only
way to be prepared for an eschatological Messiah is to be prepared for
& at the service of the One who's already lived among us & lives
among us by his Spirit. Whatever we do, let's not run out of love,
compassion, humility, all the God-characteristics. Don't let ourselves get low on God. Don't run out of God!
B) MT 5: 1-12 (As for 4th S. after the Epiphany)
MT means us to see another connection with Moses when Jesus goes 'up the mountain'. High ground that compares with Sinai only in the momentous event that's delivered there. Where Moses goes up his mountain alone, leaving the others well behind, Jesus goes in company with newly chosen disciples, with others tagging along. His ministry is inclusive. A joint-venture from the start.
Whatever else it is, the 'sermon' is very much the distilled essence of the prophetic message of old. How much is addressed to the crowd & how much to the disciples? How much of our talking is 'in' talk only reaching 'in' people? How much reaches to the outer rings, those not in a position to hear properly? Remember John Cleese's 'Life of Brian with its "Blessed are the Cheese-makers"? How to preach Jesus' wisdom so as to capture the imagination of the Brians & the cheesemakers?
William Barclay ad loc maintains that 'blessed' is best understood as 'congratulations on an existing state of affairs' rather than a prophecy of future hope. LK's 'woes' [6:24-26] could become 'damn you' or 'curse you'. Jesus springs from a background used to blessing & cursing. A sanitised ever-blessing Mr.Nice Guy does Jesus & Gospel a terrible injustice. Leaves us out on the fringe among those who haven't heard him properly.
MT turns LK's 'poor' into 'poor in spirit'. Spiritualising things too
hard to bear goes back a long way! There's no middle class back then. Only
the wealthy & those dependent upon them. Jesus uses 'poor' to gather
up all those who are so conscious that they are totally at God's mercy
that they're more open to God's Rule than the rest of us. But his actions
show he understands that no-one's state is purely economic any more than
anyone's state is purely spiritual. Jesus points up how spiritually
are those who keep today's poor in their place by means of economic doctrines sucked dry of any compassion. If we aren't at loggerheads with globilisers, economic rationalists, & their ilk, on behalf of their victims, why aren't we? Jesus is. Surely?
Are these mourners sad because of personal loss, or grieving for a lost
world? Jesus' words are incomprehensible to most actual mourners in a society
that won't come to terms with its mortality. The only mourner, of any kind,
who can be congratulated is one so close to God as to know God's consolation
in their depths because God is down there with them. In the person of you
& me. Counselling insights into grieving miss the mark if they don't
take that on board. Blessedness in
mourning will not only seem odd, but remain unattainable till we are grasped by Jesus & the God- dimension of blessedness he opens us up to.
In addressing himself to the gentle (the root meaning seems to be 'having one's passions under control') Jesus draws on PS 37:11, reminding us it's still true. Gentleness is the antithesis of the arrogances, aggression, racial hatreds, road-rages & all the other rages of a society run out of kilter. In this kind of society we inherit not the earth but only the increasingly out of control passions we unleash on each other. Only God can break the cycle & help us find blessing in the process.
Those who hunger & thirst for righteousness might well end up on bread & water, victims of legal systems that masquerade as justice. Jesus reflects on MIC 6:8. God's Rule necessarily involves us in campaigning against all odds for God's justice to prevail.
As Jesus illustrates in parables, mercy isn't always easy to give or receive. MIC & perhaps HOS are in mind. Doing mercy means getting inside someone's situation, being there with them as the agent of God's blessing. Pity is quite capable of walking past & tossing a coin in their hat. In Jesus, God gets inside our humanity & stays there even as far as the cross. A corollary is that when we're in Jesus we're ipse facto inside God. Mercy, compassion, & their sisters are inside jobs.
The Psalmist [e.g.24:3-5] highlights that transparency of the pure in heart that lets us see straight through them to God's own self. Centre of all being at the centre of their being. We can trust what we read on the label. Pureness of heart is no pious escape exercise. Pure hearts are always out & about hard at work in God's name even when battered & bruised by or for their efforts.
The sting in the next is in the tail: peace-makers. Those who actually do something. become some- thing to make peace happen, even if it's only in their small corner. Peace has become the victim of doublespeaking propagandist spin doctors & the politicians who pay them to justify war. And keep on justifying it. We mostly assume that everyone's a child of God, & so we all are in some sense, but proof that we're a chip off the Old Block is that we peacemake as God makes peace in Jesus the Christ. What local scenario is crying out for this to be put to the test?
It's easy to think we're being persecuted for righteousness' sake when all that's happening is some- thing of our own doing coming home to roost. What imagined wrongs are in our baggage? Not to play down real wrongs. Jesus takes his place by the side of those persecuted for the sake of what's right only when we are there with them for him. As him. That's the way God's Rule becomes real for those under pressure. That's when congratulations are in order. Says who? Says Jesus!
Been abused, threatened, persecuted, slandered lately on account of
Jesus? Not likely? Is it that there's just no mileage in persecuting us
any more? Moved on to better targets? There's no point in courting persecution,
but a bit of flack because we're doing right for God's sake wouldn't do
any blessed harm, would it? Or would it?