November 12, 2023

"Stewardship of Light – Stewardship of Life?”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 25:1-13

If we were in a less formal setting like a bible study, I would likely ask you what your initial thoughts were as you listened to Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish young women from the gospel of Matthew. It’s a perplexing story. I invite you to combine whatever came up for you in that reading along with the hymn we just sang warning us to “keep our lamps trimmed and burning,” for you never know at what hour the bridegroom is going to arrive. Hold all that as we explore this often-misinterpreted story. 

My guess is IF you are at all familiar with this parable and IF you remember almost any sermon preached on it, you might remember it as a story of warning. The context would certainly warrant this. In Matthew’s chronology, Jesus has just made his way to Jerusalem and will soon be arrested, tried, and condemned to death by execution on a cross. The disciples remain blissfully ignorant of all this, but Jesus knows the “gig is up.” His days are numbered, and he wants to prepare his followers for what’s coming. 

Most preachers and students of the bible take an allegorical approach to interpreting this story in which the wise young women represent those who are well-prepared and are ready for the Savior’s return which they believed would occur in their lifetime. The foolish young women, on the other hand, are either oblivious or don’t believe that’s the way life is going to play out. They represent those who have other things to do than sit around and await Jesus’ return. They instead go about their business feeling confident they have already done all that is necessary to be ready. 

You know what happens. The bridegroom’s arrival (typically interpreted as Jesus’ return) is delayed, and they all fall asleep. When the bridegroom finally shows up, the foolish ones realize they are out of oil and beg the fully prepared for some of theirs to tide them over until daybreak. The wise ones are afraid there might not be enough for everyone and refuse the request telling them to go into town and get their own oil, which they do. 

But … by the time they return, the event is well underway, the door has been shut, and they are refused admittance – as they are told, “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Huumm – doesn’t sound very Jesusy, does it?  Does Jesus intend to teach that some will be excluded when the Son of Man returns? Is being ill-prepared a sin worthy of exclusion? Is any sin worthy of exclusion?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is always place for preparation in our lives. While I am more of a risk-taker than a preparer, even I can see the wisdom of having some extra batteries, and a few jugs of water on hand in the event of a hurricane, tsunami, or wildfire. But I think there is something more going on here – and it’s an important message for our day as well.

Notice the attitude and subsequent action of the prepared. It’s clear that they, in fact, did the right thing. They arrived with extra oil – much more than they needed – just in case. They were ready to wait and would have enough regardless of when the bridegroom would arrive. But also notice how stingy they were when others – likely their friends and neighbors who were also invited to the party ran out and needed their help. Their refusal to share regardless of the reason doesn’t sound all that Jesusy either. 

Now, to be sure, the foolish ones should have known better and brought a little extra oil. But in their defense, weddings typically start on time so why drag along all those extra flasks and run the risk of ruining their outfits? 

So, what if we thought about this whole scene a little differently – turn the situation on end. Instead of focusing our attention on the ones whom we may think were in error for being ill-prepared – maybe our attention ought to be on the fully-prepared. I wonder if this story is less about being ill-prepared and much more about the attitude and action of those who were, in fact, ready.  

What strikes me is that this parable is much more about our kuleana (responsibility) to mālama (care for) and offer ho’okipa (hospitality) as it is about eschatology (or might happen at the end of time as we know it).

I’ve had several folks say to me recently – albeit of a more conservative theological stripe than I –  and with a fair amount of certainty and conviction – “We’d better start paying attention to the signs. It’s clear. The Good Lord’s coming back. We’re living in the end times. So, you’d better get your house in order.” Whether they cite as evidence the pandemic, or the plethora of wildfires, hurricanes, or drought, or the war in the Holy Land. It all falls very nicely into the Hal Lindsay mentality as expressed in his famed “Late Great Planet Earth” (1970) or the ever popular “Left Behind Series.” (1995)

It may make you feel good if you think – rather smugly – I’ve got it all figured out – that I’m one of the ones who are ready. Surely I will be included – that I will be granted entrance, but again, I say, it just doesn’t sound very Jesusy to me. In fact, IF the end is near and IF we are well-prepared for the “coming of the Lord” whatever that entails – what is our kuleana (our responsibility) to those who may not be as wary? Is it not to be “Stewards of Life” – mindful of those who may need our help and to offer whatever we have to ensure their well-being rather than to keep it all to ourselves? 

All that said, it is clear in this story – the foolish women were indeed foolish. They SHOULD have been better prepared and there are often consequences for throwing caution to the wind. But what about the wise ones. Were they any better? Did they do the right thing in thinking only of themselves. Isn’t this precisely the problem with those of us who sit comfortably in positions of privilege today? We’ve already got our slice of the pie – and it’s big and delicious and, well, we’re just fine thank you. While others live in want – unable to afford anything near what we have. [Pause]

This parable was rolling around in my mind this past week when Randy and I met with financial planners and pension advisors as I begin to prepare for some form of retirement. I’m not sure what that will entail but I do know the planning is a little overwhelming. But then I thought in my moment of exasperation, what a privileged position I am in and isn’t it my kuleana to mālama my family and to others in need as I consider all I have worked and prepared for and how it might best be used? In what way is God calling me to be a steward of life? 

We might think of this also more broadly right here as Keawala’i begins an important next phase of its life following an extended period of interim and now ready to enter another period of uncharted transition. We have so much. Oh, we think we need a lot more but there are so many others who may be ill-prepared to deal with the future. So, what is our kuleana as the wise ones – the fully-prepared? How might we be stewards of life? 

The doors are closed to so many in our community and beyond – sometimes through their own foolishness, but many times through no fault of their own. I invite you to read these words of Jesus in that light. Yes, we are called to be stewards of the light we have been given – but how are we also called to be stewards of life – to ensure that all are given the chance to live and to thrive? 


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