Thoughts for Saturday 16th January 2021

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Samuel 2:21-25; Matthew 25:1-13

Our parable today is that of the ten young women. It’s a parable that immediately follows another one that is similar, Jesus’ parable of the faithful or the unfaithful servant. Go to some commentaries and they’ll tell you that the second is told to provide some sort of gender balance within Matthew – which is a good thing. Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and then the lost coin in Luke 15 do the same. What I’m not sure about, however, is their traditional interpretation.

There is incidentally a hint of the story of Cinderella in this story. Popular in the Middle Ages, and depicted numerous times in Christian art, the general meaning has most often been taken to be a warning – a bit like the Scout motto Be Prepared to always be ready for Christ’s return. The problem I have with this is the highly individualised nature of the faith that it then proclaims.

There was a book published in 1978 called ‘Rediscovering Christianity’. It was by an American priest called Vincent Donovan (1926-2000), and was widely read. He had spent 15 years (from 1958-1973) working as a missionary with the Maasai in northern Tanzania, and the book was full of stories of his time in Africa. Anxious not to confuse Christianity with culture (which missionaries have so often done in their promotion of Western ways which have absolutely nothing to do with Christ), and aware that Jesus was actually way ahead of him, and God’s spirit already extremely active within the lives of these people, the stand-out story in the book for me was as follows:

Vincent had arranged for a series of confirmation classes in a village, and at the end of them, he told the Chief which of the villagers had ‘passed’ and were now able to be confirmed. Unfortunately, there were some whose attendance or attention hadn’t been ‘good enough’. And the Chief said, ‘No! You either confirm all of us, or none of us. We know there are some of us who may be lazy, or not quite so clever as others. But they are part of the community as well.’

And so maybe this is the warning our parable is sounding today. Not that some of us, as Christians, may be unprepared at times, but that there’s a real danger if we do divide ourselves, as the parable does, into insiders and the outsiders (and don’t share our oil), that a great many of us will be lost.  

Let us pray (using part of the ‘Invocation of Jesus of the Deep Forest’, from Ghana):

Great Lion of the grasslands!
Ahunuababirim: when you see him your heart thumps.
Lion of the tribes of Israel!
Kurotwiamansa: the Leopard,
whose cubs cannot be caught!
Etwi: the cat with the royal mane!
Okokuroko: the Powerful One,
among women and men, the most beautiful of all!
Lion of the grasslands!
We call to you, ‘Come!’

Amen.


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