Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20 and Matthew 25:1-13
A sermon preached by the Rev. Adrienne Koch at Cheshire House on Sun., Nov. 12, 2017
Sophia in Greek, Hohkma in Hebrew, Sapientia (suppy-aintsy) in Latin, Wisdom, in English…
is understood as the feminine aspect of God in Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. Wisdom has been depicted as a black goddess, the Mother of God, the Mother of Creation, a woman crowned by stars, and a woman dressed in red.
In our first reading today, Wisdom is described as the release of divine power into all the world, personified as a woman of light: radiant, and unfading.
In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is best suited to the life of a homemaker, but in the book of Wisdom, she sits in the city’s seat of business, appears on every road and is present even in your thoughts.
In short, she’s everywhere. Wisdom makes herself known to all who love her and any who seek her, and she desires to be known by everyone.
The catch to securing a relationship with Wisdom is that once you meet her, you must commit yourself to maintaining that relationship, to always keeping things fresh, always getting to know her again and again in each new circumstance, remembering just how important she is to you and to your vision for your life.
According to the Book of Wisdom, keeping her close assures immortality, entrance to the eternal Kingdom, and nearness to God forever.
Wisdom introduces herself to us today through an apocryphal book of scripture, apocryphal, which means that the origins of the author are “secret” or unknown.
According to the Book of Common Prayer (868), there are 15 apocryphal books that can be read for instruction and example of life, but they are not used to establish any doctrine of the Episcopal Church.
For doctrine, we look to the bible, and this morning’s biblical text on wisdom comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew in a parable of ten bridesmaids.
If you recall, from a few moments ago, Jesus claims that half of the bridesmaids in his story are wise and the other half are foolish.
His story is rooted in Jewish wedding tradition. Historically, bridesmaids are virgins, young women, unmarried, who carry torches in a wedding procession that begins at midnight. Their role is to assure that the ceremony is visible and they must be ready and awake as soon as the groom arrives.
In this story, while waiting for the groom, all of the bridesmaids fall asleep, but the wise ones were prepared, because they had purchased oil for their lamps earlier in the day. Preparing for a big event is stressful and any number of expectations could go awry, so they wanted to be sure that they could do their job and light their candles.
The foolish women; however, did not prepare. They had no oil, and were unable to convince the other women to share oil, so these bridesmaids missed the procession and were not allowed entry to the wedding feast.
As all of Jesus parables do, this one tells us something about what the Kingdom of God looks like, and it also tells us something about what being wise looks like.
We learn from it that the Kingdom of Heaven does not require your perfection, only your preparedness.
Jesus knows our human limitations. He is aware that though we love him we cannot love him perfectly. Sometimes we fall asleep to the important things of life. We can be easily distracted by trivial concerns, and forget what and who matter most to us. We can be unknowingly oblivious to the richness and fullness of life that God calls us to each moment.
Jesus knows that we are not perfect followers of Christ, we are not perfect Christians.
There’s an old 90s song, that goes,
I’m a Failed Christian
I don’t go to church
I smoke and I drink
And I lie and I curse
…but the reality is that even today, even right now, Jesus forgives us for what we have done and for what we have not done. Even failed Christians can keep the laws of wisdom, laws that ensure nearness to God and entrance to the eternal kingdom.
Wisdom’s law in Jesus’ parable is not to be perfect, but to be prepared.
The word “prepared” in the Greek New Testament is a word that comes from the language of construction, of building a house.
It goes back to the story of the bridesmaids. In preparation for the wedding, a Jewish groom builds a home for his new spouse. This is why the procession takes place at midnight’ he has been preparing all day and comes only when the work has been completed.
The bridegroom in this parable is Jesus. He leads us into the Kingdom by example: He has been preparing a place for the Church, his bride. In his Father’s house, he has built many rooms for his family, for us. He is preparing a place for us to live with him forever.
What Wisdom requests of us in his parable is to prepare ourselves for the return of the bridegroom. Just as God came to us in human form in Jesus, he will return one day. For hundreds of years people have been trying to predict Jesus’ return, but his arrival, like the bridegroom in a Jewish wedding, will likely be later in the night than anyone would wish or imagine.
He doesn’t want us to predict his return, but he does wants us to be prepared for it. Like the bridesmaids he wants us to figure out how to use the tools given us to light our paths him.
As Episcopalians, we are renowned for our tool, what we call our book of common prayer.
In Christianity, “light” is often a metaphor for the Word of God, and our prayer book is composed of 70% direct quotations of the bible. We pray God’s word so that it will light our path.
Inside that red book resting next to you there are hundreds of pages of prayers. There are even daily devotions for individuals that you can pray in 2 minutes, at any point in the day (WHISPER: page 137).
We learned today from the Book of Wisdom that the beginning of wisdom is the “most sincere” desire for instruction. That is what our prayer book offers you, instruction in how to best be prepared for Jesus’ return, which is the beginning of your eternal life.
Consider today how you will learn to pray, and invite Wisdom to be your companion, to prepare you for your journey down a well-lit path to Jesus.