- Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
Joshua gathers together the tribes of Israel. He tests the limits of their loyalty to the God of their origins through Abraham and Sarah. The first test is between their loyalty to God and the gods of their neighboring nations. They all promise their allegiance to God. Joshua raises the ante. This God, to whom you have pledged your loyalty, can be quite unpredictable. God’s holiness can include jealousy; even harm after first doing good. They repeat their allegiance. Joshua tells them they will be witnesses against themselves if they fail to keep their allegiance. Then he continues with the details of their covenant.
- Psalm 78: 1-7
In these introductory verses to a lengthy psalm that reviews the long relationship between God and God’s people, the poet relies on the recitation of that history to continue and renew the covenant with this and future generations.
- Amos 5: 18-24
In a rare time of peace and prosperity, religious practices had become elaborate re-enforcements for the status quo. Without credentials and coming out of nowhere, Amos speaks in a brash, new way. He warns against “calling” on the Lord when the results may not be what you expected or wanted. He derides routine liturgical offerings, rituals and singing. Rather, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Justice and righteousness are the specific demands of the Lord.
- Wisdom 6: 17-20
Drawing on ideas and even verbatim excerpts from Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, the writer of this book dedicated to Wisdom composes a paean: “the one who loves her[wisdom]/will keep her laws.” And will also find immortality and nearness to God.
- Psalm 70
A compact psalm calls upon the Lord to confront one’s enemies and even spin them around on their heels. [This psalm is repeated in Psalm 40: 14-18.]
- I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Paul addresses two big questions among early believers: death and the return of Christ. Paul teaches that when Christ returns, those who have died trusting will be raised up from the dead to join current believers and go to the Lord forever. This is not an argument, but a “hope,” which believers can have because of the resurrection of Jesus. “Encourage one another with these words.”
- Matthew 25: 1-13
Although the narratives of Mark and Luke include similar sayings as Matthew does here, only Matthew places it in the context of a story about ten people, five who were prepared and five who were not and the consequences of their action or inaction. Ten bridesmaids took with them their lamps as they went out to greet the arrival of the “bridegroom.” While five took only their lamps, the other five took their lamps and an extra supply of oil. “Five were foolish and five were wise.” By the time the “bridegroom” arrived at “midnight,” the five “wise” were prepared for his arrival, but the five “foolish” had to ask the others for some oil as their lamps ran out. But the “wise” said they might not have enough and the five others should go and buy some more. While they were gone, the “bridegroom” arrived! The five who had prepared for his arrival eagerly greeted him and they all went together into the “marriage feast…” and the door was shut. When the five “foolish” arrived late, they asked to be admitted, but were told by the “bridegroom” that he “did not know” them. Now comes the punchline: “Watch, therefore, for you know not neither the day nor the hour.”
How does one prepare for the unexpected? Just exactly are we to live without some final answers? The readings and, pointedly, today’s gospel are about what to do when we do not have all the answers we want. They are about the mood, tactics, stance and attitude we ought to maintain until we do have more answers than we have now. They are about what to do in this meantime; between this day and the day of God’s fulfillment, which no one has even the slightest clue when if might arrive, and might not look like anything we were expecting anyway.
The parable of the wise and foolish, unique to Matthew’s narrative, serves a specific function in his narrative. It is not about the content of faith, but something just as important or perhaps even more important; it is about the steps in the dance of belief. It is not about belief as a pursuit of right thinking, but about behavior and priorities while we wait. It is not about concepts, but actions. It is not about settling anything, but about staying agile, staying on our toes. We lack details about when, where, how Jesus will return so we are to learn the appropriate habits that come with eager expectation.
Even didactic Paul, who seems compelled to explain everything in detail, recognizes that this faith is closer to “hope” than proof.
Joshua emphasizes that when one pledges loyalty to this God, one makes that promise not really knowing what specific demands that promise might require in the future. Faith, it turns out, is an open-ended promise we make.
Amos warns that the most carefully observant religious life in all its liturgical and pietistic ephemera has at its center a volcanic eruption of justice, uncompromising justice, which is always unpredictable because it is God’s idea of what real justice is!
Martin Heidegger turned his laser-like attention to an aspect of our lives that we already know about, but have not thought about it as clearly as he did: The central role our moods and attitudes play in our living. In Being and Time, He examined this aspect of living using the German word, “Befindlichleit.” It was traditionally translated as “state-of-mind.” But subsequently others have proposed other possible translations into English, such as mood or stance or attitude or predisposition. Our primary mood “simmers” in us, Heidegger says, until some specific event reveals it to us. This stance or attitude, therefore, influences how we interpret and respond to any specific event in our lives. Heidegger assumes we “cultivate” our primary attitude or predisposition through self-reflection. It is some specific event that exposes what has been “simmering” in us. Ultimately, the stance or attitude we have cultivated effects what we do when the time for action arrives.
Explicating Heidegger (in particular Heidegger’s reflections on Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians) and also the work of Derrida, John Caputo concludes: “The ‘second coming of Christ’ is not a ‘when’ to be calculated, but a ‘how’ to be lived, not a matter of reckoning a definite time in the future, but of being ready, existentially transformed and radically open to an indefinite possibility that must be preserved in its indefiniteness.” (The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion, pp 139-140) This “radical openness,” Derrida insists, inflames a “passion;” a “passion to let justice flow.” (p. 338)
We know the expression “fear of the unknown.” These readings and today’s gospel offer us instead “hope” in the face of the unknown. We are not frozen with fear or mired in fruitless speculation, we know exactly what must be done– justice, God’s justice. And while busy doing it, we also get prepared no matter when the “bridegroom” arrives. It’s the difference between being “wise” and “foolish.”