It's been a while since I joined hands with some friends and danced around in a circle singing, "Ring around the rosie..." At the end of the song, of course, we all fall down, which is to say that we lean back and sit down on the grass, flopping our legs and arms up in the air, waving them as we giggle. In order to play the game right, you have to fall down. You can't be the only kid standing up when everyone else is flopping around on the grass.
In Sunday's gospel lesson (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Five were wise, and five were foolish. The wise ones brought extra oil in case of a delay, but the foolish ones came unprepared. After the bridegroom is delayed, the fools ask the others for some oil, but they refuse. While out looking for some oil (who sells oil at midnight?), the bridegroom arrives, and the foolish bridesmaids are left out of the messianic banquet.
But before the fools are separated from their wise counterparts, all of them fall asleep.
I'm sure a good biblical scholar would say I'm making too much of this little inconsistency--that the real point of Jesus' parable isn't to portray the universality of inattentiveness--but, as a preacher, I have the luxury of making a parable something it might not have been intended to be.
They all fall asleep--wise and foolish alike. Why? Why can't they stay awake? Why aren't they all punished for falling asleep? Why didn't the bridegroom show up while they were taking their nap and kick all of them out--oil-packers and oil-forgetters alike? What does the parable say to those of us with boy-scout-like preparation who still get distracted during the delay?
Whatever Jesus wanted us to think about the sleepiness of all the bridesmaids, this parable is about what Christians are supposed to do when God's salvation is delayed. Will we be prepared for the delay, or will we run out of spiritual oil? Sure, there's a sermon to be preached on that, but, no matter how prepared one is, everyone falls asleep. There is a fundamental truth that none of us can sustain ourselves in that place of waiting forever. Yes, we're supposed to be prepared, but sometimes we need a sleep or a distraction or a vacation.
Keep the oil in your backpack, but don't fall victim to the hyperimmediacy of the Lord's return. Yes, it could come at any moment, but there may be a lot of moments between now and then.