(Jesus said), “Then again, the kindom of heaven could be likened to ten attendants (bridesmaids) who took their lamps and went to meet the bridal party. Five of them were wise, five were foolish. When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take any oil with them, but the wise ones took enough oil to keep their lamps burning. The bridal party was delayed, so they all fell asleep.
“At midnight there was a cry; ‘Here comes the bridal party! Let’s go out to meet them!’ Then all the attendants rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there won’t be enough for us; run to the dealers and get some more for yourselves.’
“While the foolish ones went to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived; and those who were ready went to the marriage feast with them, and the door was shut. When the foolish attendants returned, they pleaded to be let in. The doorkeeper replied, ‘The truth is, I don’t know you.’
“So stay awake, for you don’t know the day or the hour.”
|Gay Cake Topper|
There are ten bridesmaids. Five of them are considered wise. Five of them are considered foolish. Being prepared/unprepared at the time the great moment arrives divides them. The wise attendants are able to live into their identity as bearers of light in the festive celebration. The foolish attendants miss the moment and the celebration it brings in its path.
At this level of reading we can understand this parable reminding queer people of faith to keep vigilant and to raise our voices in a church which – in some quarters – is indifferent and deaf to our cries of pain. “Don’t fall asleep while we’re working toward the time of full acceptance and blessing throughout the church – even those branches in Africa.”
The parable, though, is wrapped around the image of “bridesmaids” and this image draws us into another level of meaning. Weddings in the time and culture of Jesus started with a processional of the bride to the groom’s home: quite literally a public acknowledgement that the bride was now the possession of the groom. An historical understanding that I’m glad we have moved beyond, although it is interesting to note that Jesus reversed the procession and has it moving from the groom’s home to the bride’s. Is this signaling a reversal of possession?
The role of the attendants was to keep oil lanterns prepared and to light the way to the groom’s home. As bearers of light the bridesmaids helped to illuminate the nocturnal path traveled by the festive party if it was delayed until a late hour. Not to be prepared diminished one’s ability to “light the way.” A theme Matthew has played with before (5:14-16)
The light within the queer community is our sexual orientation and affections. This is what shines in and through us, our ability to love based upon expressions of human sexuality which calls to count heteroarchy and the injury and harm perpetrated in its defense: a light which beckons all humans to a more honest self-knowledge, and a fuller self-expression. This is the sacred light we queers offer those lost in the sexual confusion brought about by the shadows of heterosexism.
The presence of bridesmaids enmeshes us in the tricky and sticky issues of kinship which invites us to yet another level of meaning. Unlike today, the attendants in this parable were not necessarily “friends” of the bride. Rather, they were chosen from the extended family, publicly representing those girls of marriageable age to be found within the larger kinship circle. The ability/inability to prepare for the bridal party’s delay would bring honor or shame to one’s branch of the family.
The parable is now uncomfortable for queers, as we are often pointed to as “the family’s shame.” “What will the neighbors think?” has been a cry used to douse the light in us. We must tread carefully, for while the passage challenges us, it does not condemn us.
As a queer youth I was tightly bound by kinship and notions of honor/shame. So much so that conscious recognition of these issues lay beyond me. It would take as many years to unbind these chains as it took to forge them. During these years I was foolish, seeking to smother the very embers which were my light and life.
Ultimately, to borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga, I found myself “on the edge of glory waiting for the moment of truth.” At first I was not prepared to deal with my truth. But once I was prepared and the light poured forth – well my life was transformed and made whole. No longer foolish I became wise, or at least wise enough to be a feeble light bearer in the festive celebration.
At this level of reading we come to understand that what separates the wise from the foolish is self-identity. The wise bridesmaids understood and accepted the identity and it’s attending responsibilities of being bearers of light in the celebration. The foolish bridesmaids were clueless as to what this entailed for self-understanding and the responsibilities related to this comprehension. In the end the doorkeeper sends the foolish away, saying, “I don’t know you.” I suspect because the foolish attendants didn’t know themselves.