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It's How You Play The Game

Matthew 25:1-13

The Rev. Jon Roberts

8 November


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

It's How You Play The Game

Five of them were wise, by Walter Rane, 1998

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes - not that you won or lost -
But HOW you played the Game.
If this quote sounds familiar, that is because it was popularized by Grantland Rice, or “Granny” who was a sportswriter long ago. He said it during a football game in 1907 between Vanderbilt and Sewanee, commending the loser on how they demonstrated showmanship. He may not have been remembered but his words sure were. It has been modified and simplied by many who use it by saying, “It’s not a matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game. Did you notice what has been taken out of the original quote? “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name…” The game is over, not whether you are wining or losing, but when the Great Scorer comes. In the sports world we live today, who is the great scorer? The referees interpret and enforce the rules, giving penalties to those who violate them, but the score is held within the bounds of a clock. Time decides when the game is over. In Granny’s saying, emphasis is on the One, but we have chosen to take that out of the account and simply focus on how you play the game, whether you win or lose.
We all play games don’t we. We enjoy the competition, the struggle the conditioning to perfect how we connect with our plays. It is about rivalry and it is about traditions. There are bragging rights and there are trophies to be had. There is another sport, one to which you probably see as a harmless gesture but there is definate competition. Let’s see if you can guess what it is. The main person clutches an object, poised to make a toss to several receivers, all competing for the grab. There is only one point. There is only one throw. Some will fight to catch it while others will hope it falls in their hands. There is only one winner of the prize and all the rest lose out. Some of them have been waiting for this moment for years, just hoping to be the one. The best prepared are those who get in front and it doesn’t hurt to be the tallest. As expected, the one to toss the object quickly turns around and throws it behind her head and into the crowd. What is the sport? The tossing of the wedding bouquet.
This tradition started back in the 1800s when a bride thought it would bring good luck to her marriage to toss the flowers behind, for a single woman to catch. It was actually a catty experience. All of the single women thought it was beneficial to simply touch the bride’s dress and that would help their chances of being discovered by a prospecting male. It turned into something very competitive and it got so bad they began to rip pieces of her dress and the bride was literally trying to run away from them. Hence the tradition of turning around to throw the bouquet as an alternative to being tackled and torn to shreds. Those were the days when women had little choice in who they would wed. They needed all the luck they could get, and how they played the game was most important.
Let’s take a look at the parable in today’s Gospel about the ten bridesmaids who carried lamps to a wedding banquet. This event is best understood in the context of the culture. For example, how many have a new understanding and deeper appreciation from what was just shared about the history of the tossing of the wedding bouquet? The same should be true about the story of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids. A few things are worth observing and asking questions.
First observation is through the translations, whereas the description of the ‘ten’ has changed significantly. From the 1611 KJV to the 1901 ASV versions, they are listed as the ten “virgins”; in the 1954 RSV they are listed as the ten “maidens” and in the 1989 NSRV (to which the common lectionary is based today) describes them as “bridesmaids.” It is interesting that the rules have changed whereas sexual purity is not required.
Secondly, we have to ask about the significance of the lamps and what made five of these bridesmaids foolish and five of them wise? Another way we could see it in our modern lens’ is why are there five winners and five losers?

Lastly, what type of wedding takes place at midnight and why wasn’t it announced ahead of time?
We may never understand the parable unless we understand the Jewish culture of marriage. If you ever saw the movie or Broadway musical of the story, “Fiddler on the Roof” you would have seen the ritual of a marriage. There was a lot of luck that went into winning a hand in marriage and the entire community was invested in the practice. It was not like it is today when a bride and groom acutally chose each other to be married. That would be foul play and penalized severely. In Jesus’ day a male would be trained by his father in his trade. He would teach him until the day he made a rite of passage into becoming a man. This was understood when he arrived at a place when he could provide a house and income for a family to raise. While this trade is being learned, the female learned from her mother how to be a gracious wife and the qualities needed for raising and educating her children. Both the man and the woman shared the responsibilities of learning their trades and succeeding in their family line. Still, the marriage had to be arranged. They would be informed by the parents that an agreement was reached and the proposal was received, often with a paid dowry.

The woman never actually knew when the man would call the wedding, so she had to be ready. Imagine that. She had to keep herself pure and to surround herself with others who were pure, undefiled by any activity that would compromise her position. If she did, the wedding would be cancelled. There were indications when the wedding was drawing near and it was based on the building of the future house. Some of her bridesmaids would come by and say, “He just finished the siding,” or “He just finished the roof. It must be happening soon!” He would come to her, and she would go accept his call to marriage, and they would usually go to the housing complex of his family. There, they would have a rabbi bless the marriage and they would have a private wedding supper among the closest family and friends. Bridesmaids were not invited. The parable of the wedding banquet is not the wedding supper as many suspect, but rather the wedding celebration to which many in the whole community was called to join. This reception followed the wedding and wedding supper and no one knew precisely when it would start. You can now see the confusion of the ten bridesmaids and why some were asleep.

The purpose of the bridesmaids was for a rallied support of the bride leading up to the marriage and to provide the entertainment at the wedding celebration. It was also important to promote their own intention and attract a possible suitor. It was a matter of how they played the game as they wanted to win the attention of the one great scorer who may be there. This is related to our involvement in the church. It is the bride and we are being prepared for an hour that is not known. The maids are those who prepare the bride, who bring attention to the body of all believers. Keeping oil in the lamp and having a reserve meant they would play the whole game, until the very end. It is important to get our rest as those five maids did, but it is foolish when we fall asleep and fail to look for the groom. This is why we come to church, read the Bible, say our prayers and ask for Jesus to come into our hearts at any given time. It’s about keeping our lamps lit, having enough in our spiritual reserve, ready for the Lord to come. Let us pray for our current time, join the assembly of those who are wise in how the game is played, in order that we can enjoy the banquet when it is called. When we call upon Jesus, saying “I am ready,” and he comes into your life, the time is at hand. You have already won and no longer is it important on whether we win or lose. It is about how we keep the flame.

[1] Grantland Rice
[3] Matthew 25:1-13
[4] The Rev. Jon Roberts, adapted from Grantland Rice quote

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