Blessed: The Poor In Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3, ESV

This is part 2 of a 10 part series on the Beatitudes.  For the first post in the series, click here.  For a list of the series posts, click the Beatitudes category tag in the post information.

Last post I talked about what it meant to be “blessed” in the terms that Matthew is recounting from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  As a quick review, to be “blessed” in contemporary usage is to have divine favor, while the Greek word makarios (which is translated as “blessed are…” in the Gospels) can also be rendered as “happy are…” or “envied are…”  For the last option, I suggested that you could re-render that as “you should yearn or desire to be like” if using the word “envy” sounds like permission to commit the sin of Envy.

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A beggar kneeling at Charles Bridge, Prague.

This post will focus on the first statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is one of six permanent or eternal qualities that Kingdom citizens are to desire, yearn for, or seek to possess, and are blessed when they realize that desire, yearning, and seeking.  A Kingdom citizen is to never stop seeking after this state, and once they possess it, they are never to give it up.  We will look more into the permanence aspect further in the post.

I asked what it means to be “blessed” last time; now I ask: what does it mean to be “poor”?  Jesus says later in Matthew that “you always have the poor with you.” (Mt. 26:11 ESV) In the Mosaic Law, God tells Israel not to show partiality on account of someone’s wealth (or lack thereof): “…You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great…” (Lev. 19:15 ESV) So from the Word of God in two witnesses (the Word made flesh and the word given as Law), we know that there will always be poor people and that we are to treat them with the same personal dignity as someone who is wealthy.  Jesus’ statements are clearly about the indigent or monetarily poor, from the context of Matthew 26:11, and it is probably safe to say that the Law is primarily referring to the monetarily poor as well.  But is that what Jesus means in Matthew 5:3?

Do the monetarily poor possess the Kingdom of God because they are without wealth?  Are they in a state of being “blessed” in this way?  If you’ve ever encountered impoverished people who talk about money making schemes or who have placed playing the lottery in such esteem that buying a ticket becomes a near discipline for their life, then it would be hard to think this way.  The indigent poor are deserving of our care, help, and respect because they are fellow Image bearers, not to mention the specific commands throughout Scripture to render these things.  They are not, however, in possession of the Kingdom of God solely based on their lack of wealth.

When Jesus says, “blessed are the poor” he goes on to add “in spirit,” making this statement clearly not about monetary wealth.  It is definitely possible for a monetarily poor person to also fit this bill, and I might say that it is more likely that such an individual is more likely to be “blessed” rather than to be “seeking to be like” or “desiring to be” or “envying after” the poor in spirit; but if so it is not because of their lack of goods – otherwise, the Gospel would have had a single command, sell everything and beg on the street!

To understand what it means to be “poor” in the context of this Beatitude, we have to understand that “in spirit” piece.  The Kingdom isn’t a race to the bottom, where the most destitute or the pinnacle of indigence is assured a seat at Jesus’ right hand.  Rather, it is the most complete and utter monarchy, where the citizens are fully aware and openly accepting that they are absolutely dependent on their Ruler for life, for success, for health, for deliverance from harm and evil.  Jesus gives another analogy later in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in other discourses: that of children looking to their fathers – or, more properly, their Father in Heaven.  We have all been children and remember times where we were unable to complete tasks, or when we were unsuccessful at something, or when we were sick, and we had to rely on our earthly parents for succor, shelter, and encouragement.  This is the type of spiritual dependency that Jesus is extolling and pronouncing as Blessed.

Neither is the Kingdom nor the King harsh in this picture of spiritual destitution – our God does not require us to be broken so that he may throw us a crust in patronizing magnanimity.  He requires us to be broken precisely so that He may lift us up.  In this way, we are to emulate the vast majority of the indigent poor, who look for assistance from more wealthy and advantaged persons to provide for them in their weakness.  They approach others humbly and ask for what can be spared, most times expecting nothing more than pocket change if anything at all.  Just as the beggar on the street knows intimately that they do not deserve even pocket change by their own merit, we know that we do not deserve God’s mercy, but we trust in His promises to deliver us from sin and suffering.

So, to be spiritually poor is to be utterly dependent on God:  for our life and as we approach death; for our health and through the trials of illness; for our well-being and in the midst of suffering; for our successes and in the midst of our failures; to provide us peace and to see us through storms.  Because the fact of the matter is that we are this dependent – yet most of humanity regards all of these things as being totally in our control.  Most of the ills, blasphemies, heresies, schisms, and just plain brokenness that has harried the human race throughout history is due to the deception that we are the captains of our own ship.  Even being able to confess this is not the full antidote – I am intellectually aware of the reality, and yet when I pray for help it is most often as if I am asking for assistance to something I could do on my own but would be easier if God helped me, not begging for direction and intervention with something that is monumentally too big for me.

Why is it that I say that this is a permanent, or eternal quality of citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven?

For me, the largest clue for why this is true is the closing of the statement: “…for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Not “…theirs will be the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Those who are poor in spirit, utterly dependent on the reign of the triune God, possess the Kingdom in real time.  They do not await their citizenship – it is already granted to them.  In their possession of the Kingdom, they do not lose their quality of being poor in spirit.

I want to quickly divert here and say that if you are a baptized Christian and struggle with pride of life – as I and many others do – then I am not saying that you are not a citizen yet.  St. Paul makes quite clear that Christians are at different maturity levels in different areas.  He also makes quite clear that those who confess the Name and Lordship of Jesus are counted among these Blessed because no one can make that confession except by the Holy Spirit, and none have the Holy Spirit without membership in the Body of Christ.  Indeed, by earnest confession and prayer we make strides to put pride in ourselves to death and replace it with dependence on God in Christ.

I believe that what in this life – working in this fallen created realm – is a spiritual humility akin to monetary destitution and indigence will be transformed into a different kind of humility before God.  In writing this post, I cannot think of what exactly that transformation might look like, or even if there are earthly examples that we might use to gain an understanding in this life.  What I can think of that might approach this are the best examples of relationships between mature children and their earthly parents; or between loyal subjects and just rulers.

What I do know is that eternity in the Kingdom won’t be one endless realization that “I’m not worthy!”  Citizenship is predicated on the acceptance that I’m not God, and that I was created for His purposes not mine, which is its own kind of honor – the Creator of the cosmos chose of His infinite will and power to create me in His Image to accomplish His purposes, and desires that I will come into a relationship with Him.  But at the end of it all, being poor in spirit is utter realization that I am not God, and that, whatever I may think in this life, I am subject to His will for my life.  How this is accomplished is through confession that Jesus Christ is Lord and seeking to live a life governed by his teachings – in essence, to be a disciple of Christ.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Blessed

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)

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What is it to be “blessed”?  I think this question is at the core of understanding the importance of the Beatitudes to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

This post serves as the introduction to a ten-part series on the Beatitudes.  For the following nine posts, I will be examining each of the Beatitudes and writing about why the qualities Jesus talks about are blessed, and how we should approach each of these statements.

Some of these are qualities that Christ-followers are called to emulate and seek after at all times (to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers), while others are qualities that are temporal (to mourn, to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and to be reviled and slandered).  Six are eternal qualities of citizens of the Kingdom, and three will pass away after the Kingdom comes in its fullness and restores Creation to what was intended from the first breath of God to call light out of darkness.

So, what is it to be “blessed”?  As someone who has lived in the South nearly all my life, I have heard some variation on the phrase “bless your heart” more times than I can count.  It is a cultural joke that generally stems from the time-honored wisdom of mothers everywhere to “say only nice things” about people.  I usually hear it when the blessee has done something worthy of pity, or that a “less nice” person would scoff and laugh about.

Is this what Jesus means?  No, and we should be quick to banish the possibility from our minds.

The modern English dictionary has several definitions for the word “bless.”  In modern usage, “bless” can mean to invoke divine favor upon someone, to express reverence for God, to express gratitude for an act or a gift.  The modern definition is definitely tinged with a deep historic embedding of Christian thought in the formation of the modern language.  In Jesus’ day, a “blessing” was a word of acceptance, a proclamation that the person doing the blessing stood behind the person being blessed.  In the days of the Patriarchs, the rights to rule over the household were conferred through blessing (reference Isaac unknowingly blessing Jacob instead of his firstborn, Esau, to find out how important this was in their culture).

The Greek word being rendered as “blessed are” in each of the statements in the English translation of the Beatitudes is the word makarios, which means “happy, blessed, to be envied.”  In addition to reading the Beatitudes as “Blessed are…” you could also read them to say “Happy are…” but it is also appropriate to say “You should envy those who are…”  Or, maybe, to avoid confusion with the sin of Envy you could render it “You should yearn or desire to be like those who are…”

As I said above, there are six qualities that are blessed which are permanent attributes of Kingdom citizens – to be poor in spirit (humility), to be meek (gentleness), to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers.  These are the attributes that we are to strive for, to yearn after.  I would say that it is especially appropriate to render these six statements as “You should yearn or desire to be like those who are…”

There are also three qualities or experiences which are temporal, and which will be removed when the Kingdom comes in its fullness to restore the creation to what the Creator intended:  mourners will be comforted and mourning will cease (Revelation 7:17); the persecuted will possess the Kingdom of Heaven and persecutions will come to an end (Revelation 21:4); finally, those reviled for the sake of the Gospel will rejoice to be counted like the prophets, and the revilers will be made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Philippians 2:10-11).  To me, rendering these statements by Jesus as “Blessed are” or “Happy are” is especially appropriate, because it highlights that the merciful hand of God is with those who mourn, and divine favor is upon those who suffer for the cause of righteousness.  These are qualities and experiences which all Kingdom citizens will possess or face at some point.

What further contrasts these three from the other six is that while the permanent attributes are characterizations of the Kingdom citizen, the three temporal attributes are either consequences of the Fall or reactions by the fallen world to the encroachment of the Kingdom.  Mourning results from death and loss, which results from the sin of Adam.  Persecution, revulsion, and hatred are reactions by the parasitic hold of sin on the world against the truth and health of the Kingdom.

You will note that I keep referring to the Beatitudes as qualities or experiences of Kingdom citizens.  The Beatitudes form the first part of the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew (a similar sermon is found in Luke, and contains a shorter but similar list of blessings).  The focus of Matthew’s gospel account is on what Jesus’ message means for the Jewish people, and it is steeped in references to Judaism, to the teachings that grew up with the rabbinical traditions.  Part of the backdrop of the culture during Jesus’ ministry was a kind of Jewish nationalism that looked for a strongman Messiah who would kick out all of the Gentile oppressors (such as the Roman Empire) and restore a righteous kingdom on earth at Jerusalem.  There were multiple rebellions during the time by people looking for the fulfillment of the words of the prophets in mighty men.  Some of these people flocked to Jesus because they thought he was setting the stage for his own populist uprising that would restore the line of David to kingship in Israel.

In many ways, the Sermon on the Mount reads to me like a manifesto of what it actually means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The beatitudes are like Jesus’ response to people saying, “we want to see God’s kingdom here and now!” with Jesus responding “Okay, but just so you know, this is what that looks like!”  This reading has one significant potential for error: it can seem like Jesus, through the Beatitudes, is laying out a checklist for what someone outside the Kingdom needs to do to get inside the Kingdom, like what someone outside the United States might be expected to do to be legally allowed to live within the United States.  This is not the case.  Therefore, I insist on calling the statements in the Beatitudes “qualities” and not “acts” or “works.”  The Beatitudes look for the blessed to be meek, not to act meek.  One is the truth of a person, the other is hypocrisy.  The Beatitudes are not what someone must do to become a Citizen; rather, a Citizen is already in possession of the Beatitudes.

Another way to think of the qualities enumerated in the Beatitudes, especially the six that I call “eternal” qualities, is to view them in the same way as the fruits of the Spirit.  Just as the fruits of the Spirit are qualities that evidence a transformed life – rather than being acts or deeds that in themselves transform that life – so too are the qualities enumerated in the Beatitudes evidences of those who are already members of the Kingdom of God.  I’ve tried to come up with secular parallels to this, using my hypothetical immigrant to the United States, but everything I come up with is rooted in the deeds of the one seeking citizenship – there are no uniquely “American” qualities that I can enumerate, if I’m being objective and putting aside patriotism for the sake of this essay.

Over the next several months, I invite you to explore each of these qualities with me.  If, during your examination, you find that there are particular areas you struggle with or are especially difficult for you – do not be discouraged or overly dismayed!  Our God has blessed us with a Comforter that speaks to us in our weaknesses to build us up, to urge us to growth.  I find that I especially struggle with purity and against apathy towards injustice, as well as against pride in myself.  But I know by faith that my prayers for mercy and acceptance are heard, and I now rarely see a day that goes by where some kind of growth is not evident to me.  The Way of the Cross is not an easy or quick road, and our walk along it will not be finished in this life.

It is my hope that this series will bless you as you join me in examining that which Our Lord has called “blessed.”

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Least of These My Brothers

(Year A, Sunday closest to November 23, Gospel Reading from Matthew 25:31-46)

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”  Matthew 25:37-40

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An etching by Jan Luyken illustrating Matthew 25:36 in the Bowyer Bible, Bolton, England.

This is one of the most iconic of Jesus’ teachings about the final judgment.  It is also a bedrock teaching for what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a world filled with selfishness and discord.  We cannot get away from the teaching in this parable that Christ calls us to be more than just rule followers, or just “good people.”  When Jesus tells us “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” he means it.  It will be one of the things which proves out the heart we have for him.

This parable is one of those that gives me the most pause.  It is the one that most calls me to sobriety about my relationship with my fellow human beings, and how callous and disinterested I can be at times.  People that know me know a well-mannered, even-tempered man that is well spoken.  This isn’t me bragging – these are things people tell me, so I am just repeating them back.  But I know someone that is better at plastering on a fake smile, reciting scripted pleasantries, and thinking AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE that I just want to be left alone.  While I have felt the Holy Spirit working on me in this regard, I am very conscious of the miles I have left to go.

I am also the most uncomfortable with this parable, because on the surface it seems to advocate a works-based salvation – visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed and water the hungry and thirsty, and you go to heaven!  Fail to do any of these things even once, and it’s to the fire with you.  And I think many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Protestant Christianity see it the same way – otherwise, why is there such an emphasis on evangelism in “everyday” Christianity, but compassion and mercy seem to belong only to the class of Christians that go out on missions or belong to special ministries?  This may be too harsh a judgment, and if it is, I beg forgiveness.

Certainly, evangelism is a part of our Christian walk, and we should be ready to give an account of the Gospel to any who should need to hear it.  I’m not calling for a deemphasis on sharing the Gospel.  But the Gospel can be shared by works of mercy and compassion as well – as someone once said, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”

The truth is, this isn’t works based salvation at all – pay close attention to what the Sheep say to the King: “When did we see you hungry and feed you?”  And they say the same for all the other charitable deeds.  They aren’t doing them for the hope of reward, they are doing them because it is part of their nature.  In some sense, it seems to me that they aren’t saved for the sake of their deeds but for the fact that the King had to explain how their deeds were for his favor – they fed, watered, clothed, welcomed, and visited with no knowledge of the gravity or importance of those they served.  It is like James, who says “faith without works is dead.”  Faith and works go together, they aren’t opposites; works are a fruit of faith in Christ Jesus.

So then, who are the “least of these”?  Certainly, the examples from the parable of the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the wandering, the suffering, and the captive are the “least of these,” but what about others who are oppressed and neglected?  What about the youth who is kicked out of their home because their parents know Law but not Love?  Or the man who drinks to forget his pains?  What about the woman who was forced upon and assaulted by a powerful man, who wrestles with the secret for decades before confessing the wrong done to her – only to be violated over again by a rapacious public opinion? Anyone who is weighed down by the scorn and derision of their fellow humans is “least” on Earth, and when we neglect to advocate for them, we miss the call of the Gospel.

When we who claim Christ prioritize our politics over justice, as some have done in recent days, we run a considerable risk of trading sheep’s wool for goat’s horns.

Lastly, we must remember what else the King says about the “least” – he calls them “my brothers.”  They are not objects for the patronage of the Righteous, nor a means for their reward.  They are kith and kin of the One who rules us, for the Lord says: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  Our compassion for the poor and oppressed must be borne of true love and empathy for them, lest it become its own form of scorn and oppression.

I ask you to pray for the welfare of the poor and the oppressed around you, and for opportunities to serve and minister to all who need the compassion of our God – both low of station and high.  Pray also for a heart that seeks after and reflects that compassion to the world around them.  And pray also for me, for I am also human and subject to the same selfish callousness that threatens and plagues all of us.

Grace and peace to all, in the Name of Our Lord Jesus.

“And He Will Have an Abundance”

(Year A, Sunday closest to November 16, Gospel Reading from Matthew 25:14-30)

“But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 25:26-30 (ESV)

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Parable of the Talents, By Andrey Mironov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Of all of Jesus’ parables, I heard more sermons or Sunday School lessons on this one and the Sower than any other growing up.  Typically, this parable was used to teach me that God has given me gifts and talents, and I must use them effectively so that I will reap a good reward.  So, that’s it!  That’s the message – use your talents wisely, and God will welcome you as a good and faithful servant.  Tune in next week when I’ll tell you about how everyone who reads this blog is certainly among the sheep, and everyone who doesn’t Like my Facebook page must be goats.

All kidding aside, I think that this parable is far weightier than we are typically taught.

The error in the way I typically remember this being taught is not in the drive toward good stewardship – this is certainly a noble and God ordained concern.  We should examine our lives, and the graces that come from God, and be ready to account for how we have used them.  The error is in teaching that this is the main thrust of the parable.  The confusion comes from a superficial similarity between a term of weight used in the parable and the word we use in everyday English to refer to our vocational gifts and skills.  In the parable, the word “talent” refers specifically to a term of monetary weight that is equivalent to about 20 years’ worth of wages for the day laborer.  Think about the servant who was given 5 talents, and think about the amount of trust you would have to have to let someone invest 100 years’ worth of income.  I am aware of the vocational gifts God has given me, and I am also piteously aware that they do not come close to measuring up to this sum.

Interpreting and teaching this parable as being merely about good stewardship with innate (even God-given) vocational gifts or material blessings is also problematic in that it necessarily sets up an error of works-based salvation.  Why?  Well, because Jesus starts off the parable as a continuation of talking about the coming of the Kingdom.  The end of the parable is a vision of judgment, so if the parable is teaching right use of skills and abilities as being what God will reward us for, and inadequate use of those same “talents” the basis for our condemnation, then a conflict exists in Christian theology and understanding of our salvation.

If the word “talent” in the parable isn’t talking about our “talents” (in the modern day colloquial sense), what then is it talking about?  There is one gift that I do believe is referred to here – namely, the gift of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the only gift, treasure, or possession that could be understood as being as valuable as a talent of money.   It is important then that the talent is given to the servants from the master – it is such a lavish sum of money; a servant could not hope to muster it on their own.  This additionally puts paid to the notion of any works-based soteriology arising from this parable – the sum is so great that it can only refer to something that I am incapable of producing myself, and therefore it precludes looking inwardly to satisfy the judgment.

The rest of the parable then falls into place:  the master is Jesus, who leaves the disciples for a time, after teaching them and giving them in trust the Good News about himself.  The servants are the disciples, and include all the crowds that followed him around Judea as well as those that have done so over the 2000 years of intervening history to the present day.  The servants who do something with the master’s money are rewarded, by being placed over much after being entrusted with “a little.”  This refers to the faithful Christians who seek to carry out the Great Commission as well as following the commands of Christ, for the gift of grace that they have been given will return a great yield in charitable works, love, and other souls who in turn also receive the same gift and carry out the same works.  The one servant who did nothing with the money is rejected, and even what he has is taken away from him, to be given to the one shown to be the best manager of the money.  This represents the one who hears the Gospel, and for whatever reason either never accepts the gift, attempts to accept the gift without passing it on, or tries to “return” the gift by denouncing the Gospel and ultimately leading others away from it.

I believe that this parable should resonate strongly with us Christians in the modern West.  We are 2000 years from the time of Christ, and presented daily with casual rejection of our beliefs.  It has been “a long time” (Matt 25:19) and could still be longer.  We are surrounded by people who know a “gospel” that has similar characters and mentions similar events, but either through misapprehension or the idolatry of the will they cannot hear or understand or accept the true Gospel.  The temptation to give in is great, and it will become greater and greater until the master comes again.  And that, I believe, is the final message of the parable, the true heart of its message – the servants who invested the money kept faith that the master would return, because they knew his character, and that they would be well treated.  The one who buried the money acted without faith, because he did not know the true character of the master – and even if he had he acted unwisely.  Our charge, therefore, is to keep the faith until the master’s return.

As we prepare for the Advent of Our Lord, I encourage you to pray for faith and perseverance to the end.  Pray also that all who claim Christ would know and share the true Gospel, that the great treasure entrusted to us would yield far and above what we can imagine, in mercy, love, and kindness toward one another, and – above all – in redeemed souls presented to Our Master when he returns.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus.

Be Ready!

(Year A, Sunday Closest to November 9, Gospel Reading Matthew 25:1-13)

“And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:10-13 (ESV)

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Parable of the Wedding Feast, By Andrey Mironov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As we approach the Advent season, and as our world spins seemingly closer and closer to war, famine, and disaster, it is natural for our minds to turn toward what the End of Days will look like, when it will be, and how we are to prepare for it.  It is fitting then that we read this parable a few short weeks out from Advent, when our hearts, minds, and Lectionary will turn toward the anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming as we prepare to read about and celebrate His first.  This parable is packed with eschatological implication, and has been debated by scholars based on various facets of interpretation.

But I’m not focused on the academic debate.  It is clear to me that the Christ is the bridegroom, and the virgins represent Israel and the nations, and those who are prepared with ready and obedient hearts will be accepted as disciples and Kingdom citizens.  Those who are unprepared, through spiritual blindness and willful ignorance, will be turned away and left to wander a parched and thirsty land.

How do we know Christ is the bridegroom?  In Isaiah chapters 61 and 62, God’s love for Israel is compared to that of a bridegroom for his bride.  The ESV Study Bible notation on Isaiah 61:10 asserts that the speaker is the Messiah, and that he “will lead his people into the romance of salvation.”  Isaiah 62:5b makes an explicit connection between the joy a bridegroom has for his bride and how God rejoices over His people.  So the bridegroom is both the Messiah AND God, which should signal to the reader that the Messiah is more than just a mighty earthly king over Israel.  By virtue of the repeated vision of the bridegroom, the reader should see that the expectation of the Messiah is that he is to be “like” God, as in, having the same substance, the same being.  It is clear to me that the parable is talking about the coming of Jesus at the end of the ages.

One of the core points of this parable is that the wise virgins were ready – they foresaw a reason to bring extra oil and therefore didn’t need to leave where they were staying to go get more.  What does this translate to in the Christian life?  One part, I firmly believe, is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity.  That is a key starting point, because to seek to rob Him of that is to try to put He and I on a level playing field – and we are very much not.  If Jesus is not God, part and parcel with the Holy Trinity, begotten not made, Very God from Very God, then I might start to think that “Hey, this guy called Jesus lived a perfect life, maybe I can do that too!” and I seek to be my own “savior,” as if it was not by Jesus’ Lordship and His Spirit at work in me that I could attain to His perfection.  How can Jesus be my Lord if I am seeking equality of station with Him?  If my salvation is predicated on acknowledging that Jesus is my Lord, then I must get that He is more than I can be, in this life or any other.

Therefore, readiness can be considered as related to true faith, or, put another way, true faith will produce readiness.  Let’s think it through – if I have true faith in Jesus as my true Lord and true Savior, then I know that I have an advocate that is Very God on my side.  When I subject my will to His, I accept that all other things are secondary – my wealth, my esteem, my material wishes.  I rely on His Providence, and because He is Good, my God will provide for my needs.  Therefore, when the calamity strikes, there are only two outcomes for the Redeemed: either we are called home from the bodily life, and “asleep” in Christ until He calls us to our Resurrected lives, or God sees fit to spare us and preserve our lives.  This is readiness – that I have the depth of faith to recognize that it is only God who can provide for me in the hour of need, that I cannot, in the end, provide for myself.  So, to be ever watchful is to continually seek renewal and edification of faith.

How do we take the knowledge of Jesus as the bridegroom, and what it means to be ready, and apply it to how we approach the end times?  Well, one of the first ways is to listen to the words of the bridegroom, as the authoritative source, and understand them as one who has true faith in His Lordship: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)  Earlier, he says “…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44)  In fact, each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all contain this language.  Therefore, hearing that no man will be able to predict the timing of the Second Coming, we must fully take it to heart.  We are to be ready to recognize the things that happen as forerunners of that great day (“He who has ears let him hear,” the refrain throughout the Revelation of St. John), but we are to know absolutely that trying to predict or calculate the Day of the Lord is a futile effort – for only the Father knows when it is.

Meditate on your “state of readiness.”  Do you rely on Jesus your Lord for your salvation?  Do you trust in God for his provision?  Think also on the age we are in – do many of your friends and loved ones spend inordinate amounts of time chasing after false “second comings”?  Consider your own thoughts.  Do you worry too much about what the End will be like?  Take comfort that Jesus is your Salvation, and that you have a Father that delights in providing for you – and knowing these things, be assured that they are true even in the midst of war, famine, and disaster.

Grace and peace to all, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.