First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
June 17, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 25
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Last week I talked about our faith not being complicated. This week, it gets complicated. This sermon is like the little Russian dolls and the movie Inception—there will be a sermon within a sermon within a sermon.
I’ve never preached on this parable because truth be told it reminded me of the Sneetches, but with an unhappy ending. Jesus taught in parables—but not to teach a moral story, that is what proverbs do. Parables are more like riddles meant to challenge the way we usually think or react, in order to see from a different perspective.
Philosophically, history reveals we as humans cannot help but think dualistically—right and wrong, small and tall, rich and poor, the Rebellion and the Empire, Star-bellied Sneetches and Plain-bellied sneetches, leading us to judge and categorize people: “us and them.” In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Why it Can Matter More than IQ, Daniel Goleman calls this the Amygdala (amigduh-la) hijack. When we perceive we are threatened, we react. Let me illustrate:
I really do not like being wrong. When we first moved to Omaha five years ago, one of my first encounters with the difference between the East Coast and Midwest had to do with traffic lights. It just seems like on the East Coast the transition between green and red, indicated by the color yellow, lasts longer. Yellow lights here in Nebraska and Iowa just seem hasty. A few months after we moved here, I received a traffic citation in the mail. Apparently, I had run a red light in Iowa.
My first reaction, “Someone must have stolen my car and driven it to Iowa and returned it without my knowing!” I didn’t remember being in Iowa much less running a red light.
So I challenged the $100 ticket and received by email a link to a web video. The video showed my blue Ford Taurus definitely running a red light. I then remembered why I was in Iowa—driving to a volleyball game (and a bit late). But I do not recall running a red light. And I would bet my life on it. I’m a don’t-run-red-lights driver. To the dismay of family and friends, I actually drive the speed limit. I hadn’t received a traffic violation since I was sixteen! This had to be someone else’s car. I appealed again and received a blown up still shot picture from the video of my license plate. The evidence was very convincing. I was in Council Bluffs and I ran a red light. I was wrong.
Ironically, at the time I was reading a book entitled, Being Wrong, which examines how we think and feel about being wrong. Our reaction, according to the author, is that we go through three stages when we feel we are right: first, we assume the other person is ignorant, then idiotic and then evil. The thesis of the book reveals how we much we worship being right, because we operate from that mental foundation. Our ego likes to think we are always right, and so being wrong is a threat and our reaction to perceived threat usually reveals our dualistic thinking.
What if we apply the three stages of being right to our religious beliefs? Religion has caused quite a bit of conflict, leading to many calling others ignorant, idiotic, and evil. I confess for about fifteen years I operated at this level, believing Christianity to be the one true religion and all other faiths to be wrong.
The problem is perspective.
A popular philosophic story equalizes all religions in order to show that all faiths can be right in their understanding of God. The story goes like this:
Four blind men discover an elephant. Since the men have never encountered an elephant, and cannot see the elephant, they each feel a part of the elephant, seeking to understand and describe the unknown. One reaches and takes hold of the trunk, and concludes it is a snake. Another explores one of the elephant’s legs and describes it as a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and announces that it is a rope. And the fourth blind man, after discovering the elephant’s side, concludes that it is, after all, a wall.
Each in his blindness is describing the same thing: an elephant. Yet each describes the elephant in a completely different way.
And so it goes with diverse religions of the world — each faith describes God in radically different ways, but all are describing one God.
We learn from this analogy that no one religion has a corner on truth, but that all should be viewed as equally valid. That is the teaching of the story. But is it really the point of the story? The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest no faith can have more than one aspect of the truth. But what if the point of the story is the opposite. After all, the one telling the story has the perspective of sight, as do we because we know what an elephant looks like.
Does anyone really have full perspective?
I’ve learned my perspective of American history was quite biased. I patriotically served in the military based on a historical narrative that skipped over the horrors of colonization at the expense of Native Americans and Africans, that ignored the way our government disrupted Central and South America, the effects of which we see now with families fleeing their homeland. What if my perspective of Christianity is also limited? I was taught to study Scripture based on a soteriological understanding of Christ. Meaning, from the verb soter, to save. My mind has been interpreting Scripture and everything Christ says within a paradigm that Christ is a savior.
That brings us back to the parable Jesus told. This morning you will hear two short sermons based on the Scripture read. Western Christianity has always been savior-oriented, and the first sermon follows an understanding that Jesus died for our sins brought about by the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
There’s a bunch of judgment and revenge in the Gospel Matthew writes. No wonder Americans love it so much. The parable about the ten bridesmaids illustrates the preparation for the “Kingdom of God” Jesus talks about over and over. The ten bridesmaids eagerly await a bridegroom’s arrival so they can finally celebrate. But time passes and impatience settles in. We find ourselves waiting with the bridesmaids. We are all invited. We all are eager to see the groom and party. But we all fall asleep.
In telling the parable, Jesus does differentiate between the bridesmaids—five were wise and did what was essential while awaiting the bridegroom, symbolized by their surplus lamp oil. The foolish five are revealed when their lamps run out of oil. And so we must learn that those who do not prepare for the arrival of Jesus, the bridegroom, that they will be disinvited and locked out. No Kingdom of Heaven party for them. What we learn from this parable is to be actively ready and awaiting the return of Christ. That requires faithfulness and that requires serving those who are poor, oppressed, and judged. It involves working for reconciliation. And so we are to be faithful in our readiness as we wait. Faithful readiness means advocating for children who flee to the United States only to be apprehended at borders. Faithful readiness means working for mercy and justice. Jesus is warning us in this parable that there will be a number of people who look like Christians, who associate with Christians, and who even think they are Christians, who will be shocked to learn that they are not saved at the return of our Lord. Amen.
That is one way to understand the parable from a Western Christianity perspective that understands Scripture dualistically. Escaping dualistic thinking shifts our perspective from what one observes, to how one observes.
What if we understood Christ not as a savior, but as a teacher of wisdom? That is the path Eastern Christianity followed. Their interpretation of Scripture isn’t based on soteriology, the savior perspective, but from the sophiological perspective (sophia the Greek word for wisdom). Jesus no longer becomes our savior, but our teacher, helping to guide us in a way to think differently, to restructure our thought process not to categorize, but to perceive everything as one. What if Jesus told parables to transform the human consciousness? And so we hear the parable not from a dualistic mindset, but with unitive seeing!
And so I offer a short sermon on the parable of the ten bridesmaids from a sophiological perspective:
Jesus tells a story about a grand wedding feast. Ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to come—he is delayed and they all fall asleep only to be awakened in the middle of the night to shouts of his arrival. Five have oil for their lamps so they can enter the banquet hall but the five who forgot to bring spare oil ask of the ones who brought extra if they can share. They say no.
Is this really a story about being prepared? Being ready? If parables are more like riddles meant to break through the way we usually think or react to something, and shift our perspective, then how would a sophiological perspective grasp the story?
A sophiological interpretation of Scripture focuses on the journey, focusing on how Jesus is like us and how what he did in himself is something we are also called to do in ourselves. Our focus in life then isn’t shaped on what Jesus saves us from, but how can we become like Jesus, how can we transform our way of thinking to be like the way Jesus, a teacher of wisdom, thought?
The story, the parable, then is not about sharing, or being prepared, or any outer action…but about inner transformation.
What if the reason the bridesmaids who have oil cannot share is because oil is not something tangible, but intangible? All ten bridesmaids are on a spiritual journey, yet each at a different point on their spiritual consciousness or way of thinking. Five still think dualistically, categorizing and perceiving the world as “us and them.” The other five have the “oil” of nondual consciousness—the reason why they cannot share is because this ability to think differently cannot be given to anyone, it takes work to shift the mind from its perspective from a binary way of thinking to a wholistic way of thinking. When we as Christians attempt to understand Christ from a dualistic mindset, then we are shut out of the banquet hall of perspective. And that is the difference between the ten bridesmaids. Jesus is inviting us into a new way of seeing the world. Anytime we approach Scriptures, we are invited to go beyond the amygdala (amigduh-la) hijack and discover a new realm of consciousness, what Jesus refers to as the “Kingdom of Heaven within you.” What if the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t a place, but a metaphor for a new level of perspective? A new way of looking at the world? When the Kingdom of Heaven is not some Price is Right grand prize for righteous living, but grasping nondual consciousness, then our perspective of Jesus’ teachings drastically changes. Amen
Two perspectives on the same parable. Last Tuesday a group gathered to talk about race relations . One of the notes I took from someone in our congregation: “We act the way we do because of what we’ve been taught.” She was referring to the way our school books brush over the atrocities towards people of color once slavery was abolished. We practice what we believe. We believe based on the information we’ve learned.
When we operate from a dualistic mindset we judge, we see others as objects. The nondual or mystical mind frees us to love and fully experience one another with our whole mind, our whole heart and our whole soul. We no longer see stars on other bellies or stars on our bellies, for we are unified. May we all awaken to our consciousness and grasp the Kingdom of Heaven within and gain a dimensional perspective.