This story was first told at Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday 18 July 2010
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 25:1-13
“At that time the Kingdom of heaven will be like this. Once there were ten young women who took their oil lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (2) Five of them were foolish, and the other five were wise. (3) The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any extra oil with them, (4) while the wise ones took containers full of oil for their lamps. (5) The bridegroom was late in coming, so they began to nod and fall asleep. (6) “It was already midnight when the cry rang out, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come and meet him!’ (7) The ten young women woke up and trimmed their lamps. (8) Then the foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Let us have some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ (9) ‘No, indeed,’ the wise ones answered, ‘there is not enough for you and for us. Go to the store and buy some for yourselves.’ (10) So the foolish ones went off to buy some oil; and while they were gone, the bridegroom arrived. The five who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed. (11) “Later the others arrived. ‘Sir, sir! Let us in!’ they cried out. (12) ‘Certainly not! I don’t know you,’ the bridegroom answered.” (13) And Jesus concluded, “Watch out, then, because you do not know the day or the hour.
WHAT’S THIS ABOUT?
What were ten bridesmaids doing waiting around in the middle of the night for the bridegroom? Why was the bridegroom so harsh? Ok, they weren’t ready; they didn’t have enough oil; they messed up. But you and me, we’d know these foolish bridesmaids. We’d probably say, “You bunch of skelms. What you doing out in the dark? Get inside!” And later, no doubt, we’d tell our bride about her dilly friends.
The other stories and illustrations Jesus used were all taken from everyday life and were very easy to understand. So we assume this one would also have made sense to his hearers at the time. But what is clear to us is that these bridesmaids had a responsibility. We might not know what that was, but it was important enough to impact on a number of people, including themselves, and to have serious consequences. It is also clear that relationship with God is not about who we are, but about what we do.
Given those truths, how would Jesus have told the story if he was speaking to us, in South Africa today, after a most successful soccer world cup?
And what if, instead of talking about the people involved, Jesus told it from the point of view of one of the characters?
I was always mad about soccer, ever since my folks gave me a soccer ball when I was two years old. I’d make my Dad play with me. Where I grew up soccer was everything, and being able to play like Lucas Radebe was every kid’s dream.
By the time I hit high school there were ten of us in the neighbourhood. We used to kick a ball around together in someone’s yard, or on the street, or down in the park. We were at different schools but we had all grown up together. Well, except Midget—he was the shortest of the group, obviously—he came later, but in spite of his height, he fitted in pretty quickly.
PHILLIP AND ME
Phillip and I would compete for best placekicker. We could hit anything at 20 paces. We also did trick shots like scissor kicks. I know we were just showing off but, hey, if you’ve got a talent there’s no point hiding it under a bowl. Phillip would practice like mad but I was lucky, more of a natural. I could usually beat him and tackle the ball away from him. It made him really mad. I think that’s why he worked so hard; he was determined to get the better of me but I could still hold my own. Whenever I went to his place I’d find him kicking the ball or bouncing it on his feet like the soccer stars do. And when I left him after we’d been playing in the park, or wherever, I knew he’d go straight back to practicing—sometimes spending an hour or more at it. I’m so glad I didn’t need to do that. It would have taken all the fun out of it.
We were going to play professional soccer one day. We dreamed of the day a talent scout would come to our neck of the woods and spot us. We’d be the talk of the town. What a life we’d have!
Phillip also worked pretty hard at his books. Me? I just did enough school work to get by and keep my folks off my back. “Could do better,” was a regular comment on my reports but I didn’t care. Once I became a soccer star no one would care about my grades.
One year, during the winter holidays, one of the professional clubs came to our town to run a soccer clinic. Everyone was so excited. All ten of us went of course. This was our chance. If nothing else, it would be a chance to play real soccer with the big guys for a whole week. But we were pretty sure that once we had shown off our skills they’d snap us up just like that.
Playing soccer with the professionals would have been really cool, and that’s what should have happened. But, it didn’t. Instead, they had us running around the field, hopping sideways, skipping. The only time we touched a ball was when we fell over one instead of running round it. Well, I gave up halfway through the second day. The coach said he’d put us into teams for a few games at the end of the week, and then make some decisions. Well I wasn’t going to go through that sort of murder all week just to play a few games. I told the coach I’d come back on Friday. He gave me a weird look and told me not to bother. I don’t know what his problem was. He didn’t even ask me to show him my skills.
Phillip stayed, of course, with four of the others. The rest of us went down to the mall and played table soccer. It was much warmer there and much more fun, especially since I won most of the games.
A FOOTBALL SCHOLARSHIP
I went back on Friday, in spite of what the coach said. Phillip told me they were going to offer some kids the chance to play in the professional team’s junior side. That could lead to a football scholarship. Phillip said that the coach had been really interested in him and seemed to be working with him more than the others. He was excited about his chances. Well, I reckoned that, if Phillip was in with a chance, I should also get a look in. I mean, Phillip had to work at it; I was a natural—did I tell you that? If it was talent they wanted, I could show them a trick or two.
The ten of us went together. Phillip wasn’t so sure. He kept saying that the coach had spoken about passion. I told him to zip it. He was just jealous that I had it and he didn’t. “What good is passion if you can’t play?” I asked. That shut him up and we waited around in the cold with about 20 other hopefuls for the coach to show up.
Phillip and his mates did some of the exercises they had been doing all week. I got Midget to throw the ball at me when the coach arrived so I could do a scissor kick. It was brilliant, even if I say so myself.
The coach walked straight passed me. He called Phillip and the four who’d been there all week and a few of the others. I went up to him. “If it’s talent you want, I can show you a trick or two,” I told him. “I’m a natural.”
“I can see that,” he said. “But if you’re not interested in hard work. Your talent is of no use to me. I’ve seen your mates working hard all week; I know exactly what I can do with them and what they’ll do for themselves. But you—I don’t know you; except that you can kick a ball a bit and, you’re a lazy bum.”
A LAZY BUM
Can you believe it? He called me a lazy bum! Me? Well I wasn’t going to stick around for more insults and I certainly didn’t want to beg, but this was my future, my dream. “You can’t just ignore me,” I said.
“You ignored me all week,” he told me. “These guys,” he pointed to Phillip and the others. “I know them. I know I can trust them. You? I don’t know you. I offered you a week of my time. You weren’t interested. Why should I offer you more?” and he started to walk away.
“Because I’ve got loads more talent than all these guys put together,” I called after him.
He turned and looked at me. “I can see that,” he said.
At last, I thought, he’s beginning to see sense.
“But that’s not what I want,” he said, breaking into my thoughts.
“You’re good, but you and your friends are nowhere near professional level. So this isn’t about you; it’s about what I can do with you. And I’d have to work just as hard with you as with anyone else. If you’re not interested in a couple days’ hard work, you won’t cope with what I’m going to offer you.” Then he turned his back on me, and I never saw him again.