22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Nov. 9, 2014
I had a student some years ago that I could see right away was going to be difficult. It was clear that reading and schoolwork were really hard for him. Worse than that, he seemed to have no interest in doing well in school. He tended to act up in class. From the beginning his grades were poor; and so was his behavior.
Then one day everything changed. Someone told him that if he got any Fs on his report card he would have to attend summer school. I don’t know who told him that. It’s not even a true statement. But it completely changed him.
He agreed to stay after school every day for help on his assignments. He agreed to keep an accurate daily planner with all of his assignments and would check it off with me before and after school. During and after school, he worked painfully slow through all of his assignments asking me constantly to check them to make sure he had passing grades.
Other things happened too. He and I came to really enjoy each other’s company. He would always smile when he saw me and I would always be happy to see him. His poor behavior in school disappeared. He was too busy making sure he had is assignments organized, done and passing. According to his mom he no longer hated coming to school.
He would ask me all the time to check his grades, and he would mention that he just couldn’t get any Fs on his report card because then he’d have to do summer school. I never had the heart to tell him that it didn’t quite work like that.
Well, he never got an F on his report card. Of course he didn’t have to do summer school. His mother said it was the best year of school he’d ever had. When he said goodbye to me on the last day of school I could tell he was going to miss me. And I would miss him.
It all started when this young man had acquired information about his future. Even though that information wasn’t entirely correct, it was partially so. How he did in school mattered. And so he acted decisively to make sure he was ready for the future he wanted. And that brought a very happy result indeed. He was ready for the future when it came.
When my students talk about their lives in the future. It is clear they look forward to a future where they can feel good about their lives… where they will be independent and happy. They will be able to care for themselves and others. Some of them come from homes and lives that are not like that… and yet they hope and believe that they will have that themselves. They imagine they will be different, but they often foolishly think this will happen simply because they want it to… because they say it will.
The truth is… for my students… the kind of adult they will eventually become is not a matter of the future at all. It is being determined now. The 11 or 12 year old kid is “building” that adult right now, in the choices they make, the habits they form, the goals they pursue, the way they look at life.
If, now… in the present… they learn to work hard to fulfill the responsibilities they have been given, then they will, over time, become an adult who can do the same. If they take care to treat others respectfully, then they will become an adult who does the same.
If they learn to identify and give their energy to things that are truly worthwhile and valuable in life, then they will become an adult who can do the same. If they learn, as a kid, not to give up when things get difficult, but to keep on working and find another way, then they will become an adult who doesn’t give up or run away when life’s challenges come up against them.
Many years ago, I had a former Y.C.C. student over to my house shortly after he had been released. He was 18 at the time. (I had known him years earlier when he was a little kid.) He laughed at me when I asked him what he was doing to get himself ready for being an adult. He explained that there was time for things like getting a job and acting responsibly later.
He understood that he needed to get serious about that eventually. He didn’t want to be a total screw-up like his parents. That would never happen. But right now, he just wanted to have fun. “Don’t talk to me about that stuff. I’ll get to it later.”
Within two years, he had fathered a child and was in prison serving a multi-year sentence. In spite of his vow to never be a screw-up like his parents, he had become one! A critical time to get ready for life had passed him by. He wasn’t ready. He was in prison. He was like one of the 5 foolish bridesmaids in today’s Gospel lesson.
Today’s gospel lesson is a fascinating “Kingdom of Heaven” parable about 10 bridesmaids who have a simple, but important task set before them. Be ready to greet the bridegroom. Five of them understand the importance of this task and so they take steps to make sure they are prepared and able to carry out the task. The other five just don’t get it. They don’t think about what is at stake and they don’t understand how being ready for something in the future means doing something now. As a result, only the first five are ready for the big event; the foolish five miss out.
This passage has a long history of interpretation. For centuries, this parable was understood to be about getting into heaven. But that is very seldom what Jesus’ “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God” parables are primarily about. They always have a much broader application. And they are always much more interested in how the power and grace of God impact our lives right now.
Jesus wants us to open ourselves to the kingdom of God now, for the sake of this world, this life. He wants us to do that so that love, life and joy might enrich and shape our lives… and the lives of those around us.
We are called in life to give ourselves over to a future of God’s making. Time is the gift God gives us to be a bridge between where we are now and where God is leading us. He will make us children of God. He will show us, and plant in us, strength, love, and joy. He will prepare us to be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends and workers… people of God through whom the gifts of God give light and hope to others.
This doesn’t just happen magically, or because we want it to. We have to let God in and make ourselves ready for it.
The five young women in the parable are wise because they see how their lives are moving forward. They understand how the present is connected to the future and they grasp their responsibility to act now in order to be ready for what’s coming.
We are like them. We are to live our lives now in a way that will shape our future. We are called to live our lives in a way that leads us to be strong, giving and joyful people; because that is what we were created to be.
This is a truly pressing matter for you students here at Y.C.C. You can’t afford to waste any more time. You can’t afford to put off getting ready for life. The fact that you are here reveals that you have been poorly prepared for life. Your life has not been managed well; responsibilities have not been handled effectively; you have not given your heart and energy to things of true value.
You are certainly not the only one to blame for your being in this position. Certainly there are others whose failure to “be ready” has impacted your life; but at this point blame is meaningless. You are here; and, like the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel lesson, you are the only one who can answer God’s call to get yourself ready. It is up to you to open your eyes and mind, and see where you are, what is at stake and begin, now, the lifelong task of answering the call to live as a child of God.
God calls us to participate in his great, festive banquet of life. That means, simply, that we are called to open our hearts to God, learn from him, fix our minds on those things that matter and have true value, let God shape us, and then work hard and wisely to make ourselves ready. God, who calls us from the future, will meet us all along the way and deliver to us the riches of his promised kingdom.