Connections 11.08.2020: Joyful Readiness

Matthew 25:1-13

Our current unit of lessons is entitled “The Disciple’s Life” and is subtitled “Motives and Actions.”

The title and subtitle assume that we should undertake certain actions as disciples of Jesus. The title of this week’s lesson is “Being Ready.” So the action the lesson encourages us to engage in is being ready. Specifically, we are to be ready for Jesus to return.

The unit title and subtitle also assume that we should have certain motives for undertaking our actions. So what is our motive for being ready for Jesus to come again? What reason do we have for being ready? Why should we make sure we’re ready?

There are some motives we shouldn’t have.

Fear shouldn’t be our motive. We shouldn’t anxiously try always to have our lives in order out of fear that Jesus will get us if he finds us unprepared. A popular (and terrifying) evangelistic tract from my childhood years imagined a man dying and the Lord showing everything he had ever done on what looked like a drive-in movie screen. I spent my adolescence dreading my life being screened that way. I expect that some folks have never moved past such fear and continue to be motivated by it. But fear isn’t a sound motive for being ready for Jesus to return.

A desire for superiority also shouldn’t be our motive. I can imagine the five wise bridesmaids in the parable being pretty pleased with themselves when the bridegroom comes while the five foolish bridesmaids are off buying oil for their lamps. They might feel superior to the others. But we shouldn’t be motivated to be ready for Jesus to return by a desire for others to find out that we are better prepared—and, in our minds at least, maybe better—than they are.

So what should be our motive for being ready for Jesus to return?

I’d suggest joyful expectation as a proper motive. The parable is about a wedding celebration. When the bridegroom comes, the wedding banquet will begin. I imagine the five wise bridesmaids making sure they’re ready for the bridegroom’s arrival because they look forward to joining in the celebration. I imagine them preparing joyfully for the bridegroom to come because they anticipate the joy to come.

We should be ready for Jesus to come because we are joyfully living out our discipleship as we await the unimaginable joy we will experience when he arrives.

I’d like to add that joy can be contagious and that it should be shared whenever possible. Now I know that parables are stories, that they say what they say, and that they often make only one point. When we put all those facts together, we must acknowledge that a parable can’t present every contingency or possibility. At the same time, it is the nature of parables to get us to ponder and reflect on their possible meaning.

With all of that being said, I kind of wish all the bridesmaids would have checked in with each other to make sure that everybody had enough oil. While joy can and should motivate preparation, it can also distract people from the preparation they need to make. Joy that leads to clear-eyed preparation is better than joy that leads to careless preparation. I understand that once the bridegroom made his appearance, the five wise bridesmaids couldn’t share their oil. But wouldn’t it have been good if they had encouraged the other five to go get some oil long before the bridegroom arrived?

Like many parables, my post has one main point: the joy that comes from following Jesus should keep us prepared to experience even greater joy when he comes again. But like many parables, there might be other lessons in my post. One of them is that our joy is increased when we help others experience such joy too.

Discussion

  • Jesus begins the parable by saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” What is the kingdom of heaven that the parable illustrates? Is it the wedding banquet that occurs when the bridegroom arrives? Is it the waiting and preparation in which the bridesmaids engage? Or is it both?
  • The parable doesn’t say that there were five good bridesmaids and five evil ones. It says that there were five wise bridesmaids and five foolish ones. Why do you think Jesus uses the adjectives he uses to describe them? What does this say about people’s preparation or lack of preparation for Jesus to return?
  • What might we make of the fact that each bridesmaid must have enough oil for herself? What does this say about our need to be prepared for Jesus to return?
  • How can our not knowing when Jesus will return challenge us to be prepared? How can it contribute to growth in our readiness for him to come again?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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