From Apocalypse to Party
Have you ever stayed up all night? You may have been waiting for good news or bad, trying to work on a project, at an all-night dance, or just have insomnia. In college, the phrase was "pulling an all-nighter" for a reason - it was not easy! When I try to force my brain to stay awake, without something to keep it actually busy, and even sometimes then, it just shuts down. It has had enough of being alert!
"Be ready for anything!"
"Be alert, have your shoes on, get ready to go!"
"The end is coming! We don't know when, but if you are ready then you won't be caught off-guard."
If you want to do some reading ahead for Sunday, the parables will be of the Ten Bridesmaids, Matthew 25:1-13, Returning Master, Luke 12:35-40(also Mark 13:33-37), and the Closed Door, Luke 13:23-30(also Matthew 25:13). These parables are linked in theme: apocalyptic, judgment, keeping watch, being ready. These parables foretell a second coming element, are moralistic without depth, and do not have the same "trickiness" or clever reversal of expected norms, that other Jesus parables have. There is too much detail for too simple a message. In addition, these stories deliver a deliberate appeal-based threat; the lesson revolves around the listeners following the point of the story out of fear of defined consequences. Jesus does not typically voice such negative-consequence appeals. It is likely that this group of parables were actually products of the early church. Perhaps based on remembered snippets of stories Jesus told, more likely the early church was so consumed with the idea of the second coming, the apocalypse, when Jesus would return in glory that these stories were created to startle believers into urgency.
If these stories were not original to Jesus, even though they feature in the Bible and lectionaries, what can we learn from them, what message might we glean from these words? They tell us the story of the faith development of the early church:
Mark's gospel was recorded first. Mark was an apocalyptic theologian and his lens would have had cosmic significance. Mark's version of the Returning Master has an element of fear threaded through the ready alertness: we are to watch for signs of God's new social order forming among us, looking for possibilities that deviate from the establishment. Don't be caught asleep at the wheel!
Matthew's gospel and the story of the approaching bridegroom and waiting bridesmaids came next, and expands on the theme of watch-keeping, but adds a potential party element. It is still apocalyptic, but blossoming into something beyond the fear of social upheaval.
Luke's gospel focuses even more on the incredible party that will happen when the master returns and finds the servants alert. The homeowner cooks a feast for their workers and even waits on them!
Ironically, Luke’s version with the role reversal is closer to many of Jesus' lessons - God watches and waits for us with joyful anticipation and hosts a party just for us.
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd