The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise replied, "No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves."
(Matthew 25:8-9 – The full parable is Matthew 25:1-13)
I am always deeply troubled by the parable of the bridesmaids in Matthew. I feel bad for the foolish bridesmaids who, through lack of preparation and forethought, end up denied their place at the wedding feast. I understand the underlying point of the parable – getting oneself in order to be ready to receive the bridegroom, the Christ, for life abundant – a place at the banquet table. I get that.
But please allow me to belabor a metaphor that came to my mind: that of the jigsaw puzzle. I’m not sure how you go about assembling a puzzle (or whether you even do jigsaw puzzles), but my wife Barbara and I dump out all the pieces on the table, turn the individual pieces face up, separating the edge pieces from the rest. Then we assemble the frame. Once we have the boundary set, we begin filling in the rest, looking for patterns and clues as to which pieces fit together (with an occasional peek at the box lid to get the whole picture in mind and to see what we might be missing in our quest for those all-elusive pieces that we hunt and hunt for, but just can’t seem to find). Through diligence, patience, some frustration, but almost obsessive commitment, we finally place the last few pieces and feel a deep sense of accomplishment as we actually have wasted half a day that could have gone to more productive pursuits.
What, you may wonder, does this have to do with the parable of the bridesmaids, and the unwillingness to share what we have with those who might lack? The image that comes to my mind is that currently in our United Methodist Church and in our nation at large, we are conflicted about the puzzle we are putting together. First, we have not "turned all the pieces face up," we don’t know and understand each other nearly well enough. We allow others to "lie face down," a mystery to us because we just see a blank, not any distinction. And we have not agreed on a "frame," we don’t share a set of boundaries and values and parameters that allow us to agree on the picture we are trying to create. And we are trying to assemble a picture with some pieces face up and some face down – impossible to fit together, not creating any kind of cohesive vision. Instead of negotiating a way forward for all, the "face-ups" angrily judge and accuse the "face-downs," and the "face downs" reciprocate with condemnation and hostility. We end up frustrated, exhausted, depressed, and no finished picture is possible.
I believe that we are God’s jigsaw puzzle. I believe that every one of us is a valuable and necessary piece of the puzzle. Each of us is unique, each of us has a place – in connection with other pieces – and each of us contributes to the greater good. No puzzle can be complete without all of us connected, united, and included. God has given us the "frame pieces" through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the teachings of the gospels, and the writings of Paul and other early church leaders. Our discipleship fulfilled is to take our place in the whole picture – the will – of God. Only when we seek, connect, and incorporate each piece can we become the image and vision God has in mind. We cannot say to any pieces, “you don’t belong here.” We cannot ever refuse to share with those necessary, valued, and important pieces.
And let’s be honest – people are a puzzle. There are many people I simply do not understand, and I am sure that I mystify quite a few people myself. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn't love and care for those puzzle pieces that I personally don’t know where they fit in. God knows, and that is the important thing. So your piece might not fit snugly with my piece, but that’s okay – we all fit somewhere, and when we all find our places together, the picture we form is an honor and a glory to God.
Prayer: Puzzle-maker God, we are called to be stewards of your manifold mysteries, and to be faithful in all that we say and do. We are to respect and value each other as divine gifts from you. We are instructed not to judge, but to forgive; not to condemn, but to celebrate; and when a sibling suffers, we are to do all in our power to ease their pain. This binds us together, fits us in place, and makes sure that everyone is included and cared-for. Thank you for this opportunity and blessing. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.