Matthew 25 opens with the challenging parable concerning ten virgins going out to meet the bridegroom. The foolish have only their shining lamps with a first deposit of oil while the wise have brought along jars in which to carry fresh oil.
I fear that many times we may be more like the foolish maidens if we only spend our time on the instant satisfaction of ministry and meetings rather than on the lengthy cultivation of a deep relationship with the Lord. In an ideal world we no doubt do both, but it seems that the coming emphasis may be more on the “jars” than on the “lamps”.
In Matthew 7:21-23 we are presented with the stark reality of a ministry in action without the corresponding intimacy of relationship. “Lamps” may have burned in casting out demons, or shone brightly in prophetic revelation, but the terrible final verdict is, “I never knew you…”
A midnight hour awaits this world; when, like the disciples at Gethsemane, the Church will become drowsy and even fall asleep. Let’s make the most of our ease and happiness while it lasts, as difficult times may well be ahead.
There is a critical moment in time just before the return of the Bridegroom. The virgins stir from their slumber and “revival” seems to be in the air. A wonderful time of opportunity presents itself as light pierces the darkness to illuminate a path for the Beloved’s return.
But is it sustainable?
So often it is easier to light a lamp than to sustain its burning. Early enthusiasm can wane in the lonely darkness of the midnight hour. The love of most can grow cold as wickedness increases.
Whatever the eschatological time frame you use, many of us, here and now are confronted with this question. As John the Baptist sought to prepare a way for the Lord and rejoiced at the sound of the bridegroom (John 3:29) so churches and missions throughout history have trimmed their lamps in active ministry.
The oil may be running out of some our present structures and ministries. Excellent books have been written about the various paradigm shifts in history and the need for a different approach to an ever-changing world. (Transforming Mission – D.Bosch; The Shaping of Things to Come – Frost and Hirsch)
The lamp of our own minds and bodies can also ebb and flow in the natural rhythms of life and, rather than drift into the inevitable entropy of burnt out broken dreams, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit shine on into a new season of usefulness.
How? Well, we need to be wise. We need to be able to draw on the stored resources of fresh oil.
We need new oil for a new season.
The bad news for the foolish Church, nourished on the instant “junk food” capitalist gospel, which says that you can just go and buy it, is that “You can’t!” Don’t miss out on the King’s return by losing your way on the consumerist religion road.
In fact, it would be better to wait in the acknowledged bankruptcy and darkness of our oil less life, trusting in the ultimate grace of the Beloved, rather than lose the whole thing by trying to buy our way out of the situation.
So where do we get this oil?
Gethsemane is the place of suffering, stress, and prayer. It is the ultimate place of obedience.
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42
We store up this new oil in our jars as we follow Jesus into costly obedience. We take responsibility for the lot in life that has fallen to us and push through the pain barrier in vulnerable prayer, finding our strength at the cross. This is the oil of intimacy that will burn in the “end time” church and which has always burned in the faithful throughout history.
Do you remember the Jewish “Hanukkah” story which is inspired by the books of 1&2 Makkabees in the Apocrypha?
Under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes the Jewish temple had been destroyed and desecrated by the invaders. The “hammer” of the passion of the Makkabee family struck back and regained the temple, only to find that everything had been polluted. They so longed to light the lamps but only enough oil was found to burn for one day. It would take eight days to make and consecrate new oil. Then the slow burn miracle happened. The lamp, instead of burning out, burned on into the eighth day.
It burned on into a new beginning.
May none of us be foolish and “burn out”. Even though the midnight darkness closes in and our brows are damp with pain, may we continue to say “yes”. Even though we feel desecrated, broken and oil less, may we know the miracle of burning on to the transcendent eighth day of new start. Dean Stanley writing many years ago about Gethsemane mentions eight olive trees. This is indeed a fitting image of the Hanukkah new beginning and the Gethsemane oil together.
“In spite of all the doubts that can be raised against their antiquity, the eight aged olive-trees, if only by their manifest difference from all others on the mountain, have always struck the most indifferent observers. They will remain, so long as their already protracted life is spared, the most venerable of their race on the surface of the earth. Their gnarled trunks and scanty foliage will always be regarded as the most affecting of the sacred memorials in or about Jerusalem.”
The time to fill your jars is now!