November 2020

An In-Your-Face God

23rd Sunday After Pentecost, November 8, 2020
Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

“In your face! I’m better than you are, uh huh, uh huh!” This is a very rude expression that arises in the heat of competition between two individuals where one outdoes the other and offers an in-your-face display of this sense of superiority. I confess now and then being on the giving end of this expression. Even as I speak, I’m tempted to direct it at the picture of a certain presidential candidate that shall remain nameless. Yet while unleashing this sentiment may be a healthy way of unloading pent-up anxieties, it remains best done in privacy or in the company of friends who understand and appreciate the source from which it comes. 

We live in a divided nation and world in which similar and more harsh expressions have been and are being directed at others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political perspective. Our divisions are so deep, debilitating and infectious we can’t help but wonder if there will ever be a cure.

Even today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel regarding the bridesmaids seems to convey an in-your-face insensitivity among the five bridesmaids who had enough oil in the lamps against the other five who didn’t. Since they were supposedly of the same community and knew one another, why couldn’t an arrangement be made enabling the lesser lights to follow the greater lights to the banquet feast of the bridegroom for which they all craved?

The historical context of the story is one in which the followers of Jesus were excommunicated as heretics from the synagogues. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, and with it, the cultic center if Jewish worship. The second-coming of Christ, the Bridegroom, and the final judgment upon the nations were delayed in coming causing a waning of faith among some of the followers, signified in the low amount of oil among the foolish maidens.

But here we must make a comparison between the family of God that supports and sustains one another, especially in difficult and uncertain times, and the families of the world that are more inclined to point the in-your-face finger of blame and ridicule leaving many behind so that the privileged few might gain access to the sumptuous feast.

Where in this story is the God of Mary who brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; who fills the hungry with good food and sends the rich away empty? (Luke 1:52-53) Where in this story is the God of the Apostle Paul who condemns those who ravenously consumes the Lord’s supper without considering the needs of others among them who are hungry and in need? (1st Corinthians 11:21) Where in this story is the God of Jesus who restores sight to the blind and frees the oppressed? (Luke 4:18) Where in this story is the God of the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance, returning to his father for forgiveness, and whose father joyfully receives him and celebrates his return with an extravagant banquet? (Luke 15:11-24)

In this story God, the Bridegroom, admits only those wise enough to bring an ample supply of oil, but denies both admission and recognition of those who valued the banquet enough to go back and return with an ample supply of oil. Where in this story is the God of compassion and mercy?

In my heart’s story, where all of us suffer from waning fuel and wasteful lifestyles, God is the one who confronts the bridesmaids in their sense of superior wisdom and disdain of the others with an ultimatum that denies any one of them admission until all, including the ones left behind, are prepared and ready to be received. For “if one member suffers,” says Paul, “all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1st Corinthians 12:26)

God confronts our faith, our politics and our God-forsaken way of life with a finger-pointing, in-your-face repulsion of what we consider righteous and superior to others with whom we differ, denying us access to the fullness of the heavenly feast until we have experienced the heart-felt compassion to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Amen.