Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost

WISE AND FOOLISH BEHAVIOR

November 12, 2017
Matthew 25:1-13

No matter whether it is a coincidence or not, I find it rather ironic that our gospel lesson for today talks about a bridegroom and bridesmaids on the very same day that Kyle and Rommel are affirming their marriage.  Whereas this parable talks about one bridegroom, we befittingly have two bridegrooms before us today who will be reaffirming their vows to one another and recommitting themselves to a life-long relationship of love and faithfulness.

The question before Kyle and Rommel today is the same question that all of us could be asking ourselves about any of our relationships, and, particularly for some of us, about our marital relationship.  How is it that you will be wise in your relationships with one another and how is it that you could be acting foolish in your relationships?  Based upon your personal experience, all of you here today could offer all kinds of advice to Kyle and Rommel, but allow me this morning to take a few minutes to offer my own suggestions based upon some readings from the Apostle Paul, and see if they would resonate with what your responses might be.

First of all I draw upon a reading from Paul's letter to the Colossians where everyone in the community is affirmed for being a chosen and beloved child of God.  This gracious blessing is the basis for how everyone is to behave and relate with everyone else in the community, including Kyle and Rommel with each other.  In this regard, Kyle and Rommel would be wise if they would approach their relationship with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience as we all would with one another.  Obviously the opposite of such behavior might include such traits as disdain, meanness, self-centeredness, violence, and impatience—traits that would fall within the category of foolishness when it comes to maintaining and sustaining any healthy relationship.

Paul goes on to say that we are to bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against the other, we are to forgive each other.  We all have our idiosyncrasies when it comes to being who we are rather than becoming what someone else wants us to be.  The wise challenge in any relationship is learning to accept the other person for who they are without shaping or molding the other person into exactly who I want that person to be.  That's not to say that we ought not point out to each other those things that bother us or get on our nerves, but once such a comment is made, then it is up to each person to decide if changing one's behavior is worth doing for the sake of the relationship.      

The second part of this wise piece of advice is the more important instruction from my perspective because of its subtle meaning.  If anyone has a complaint against the other person, you are to forgive each other.  As I hear this statement, if one person does the other person wrong, both persons are to forgive each other.  Well, that doesn't seem right!  Why should I have to forgive you if you think that I am the one who has done you wrong?  The simple truth is that if you have done me wrong, I may be holding on to my anger against you for a long time, I may be resenting or despising you, I may be thinking about ways to get back at you in revenge, or I actually may justify doing you harm for what you did to me.  In any of these situations, the air only can be cleared if our forgiveness becomes a two-way street and we wisely put behind us whatever it is that has caused a division between us.

Above all, Paul says, clothe yourselves in love which binds everything together in complete harmony.  Such wise and sound advice may seem rather trite, but the love about which Paul speaks includes so much more than the emotion that may run hot or cold on any given day depending upon which side of the bed you get up on, how the other person looks in the morning, or whether or not you get your morning cup of coffee.  According to Paul's letter to the Corinthians, the love about which he speaks is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at the other person's wrongdoing, but rather rejoices in whatever the other person does that is righteous in God's sight.  We already have heard how being patient and kind are wise ways of being in a relationship, and how being envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful can foolishly undermine the health of any relationship. 

However, the new wrinkle in this description of love by Paul is the dynamic of rejoicing at the other person's wrongdoing.  When a loving and committed relationship gets to this point, you know that it is time to get some help.  Rejoicing at another person's wrongdoing is a sign that this relationship has deteriorated to the point of hatred, spite, and even cruelty—such foolishness in the sight of God when it comes to the kind of relationships that God desires of us.  If a personal relationship gets to this point, then you know that the love that once was present has long been smothered by the worst of passive-aggressive behaviors.

Paul then counters with the positive insight that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.  I know of no love that is this complete because all of us are simultaneously saints and sinners, wise and foolish, blameless and guilty, right and wrong.  However, come to think of it, we do have someone in our lives that comes close to this complete love—the One whom we profess to be our Christ.  Except for a few instances of angrily calling people names and disrupting corrupt businesses, Jesus was the most complete revelation of God's love that we will ever witness on the face of this earth to the point of giving his life in order that we might be assured that all of our sins are forgiven and that we may know the way of making peace in this world.

Therefore, when Paul says that we are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, he was speaking about much more than the state of feeling a peaceful calm within ourselves.  To let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts also involves all of the wise ways that we strive to make and keep this peace in all of our relationships—with our partner, with our children, with our parents, with our co-workers, with our classmates, with our boss, with our teachers, with our neighbors, and  even with our adversaries.  We only fool ourselves if we think that the peace of Christ is meant solely for my personal gratification while we ignore the plight of those who are hungry or homeless in our society or contribute to the racism and materialism that continues to divide this country of ours.

Finally, Paul concludes this instruction by telling the people to be thankful.  What would life be like if every morning when you woke up, you said to your partner, "I thank God for you"?  The same question would hold true if you said this to your children in the morning or to your parent.  For those who live alone, this gratitude could extend to those with whom you interact on a daily basis.  If you know someone in your life about whom you do not feel very grateful, then you might ask yourself, "Is there anything that I could change within myself to rectify this relationship?"  We certainly cannot control how another person may relate with us or treat us, but in a world where it is so easy to foolishly blame the other person for everything that may seem wrong in our relationship, we would be wise to search for and acknowledge the ways that we might be contributing to this strained relationship as well.

This parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids traditionally has been applied to the end of time when we all will have to face our God and either be received into the realm of heaven or be cast into outer darkness forevermore.  Instead of thinking about this parable in regard to the end of time, what if we would think about this parable in the here and now, and consider the realm of heaven as the beloved community that Jesus espoused throughout his entire ministry?  How is it that you and I could embody this beloved community in all of our relationships and wisely behave and act in a way that serves the common good of everyone within this community?

Such is the purpose and the power of this holy meal that we share this day.  Here is where we all can experience the love of God as revealed in Jesus and encounter the One whom we call our Christ. Here is where all of the foolishness that we have done to sabotage any of our relationships is exposed, forgiven, and laid to rest.  Here is where our relationships are restored to the communion that God desired from the beginning of time and promises to make complete at the end of time.  Here is where all of us receive the power of God's Spirit in Christ to make wise decisions and act wisely in all of our relationships—ones that contribute to the health, the wholeness, and the peace of the beloved community where no one is left out and everyone has a place at the wedding banquet that has no end.  Amen.