The Dealers Have What You Need
Every Friday morning at St. Paul’s in Cullman, I teach a Bible class that is intended to resemble Lectionary at Lunch. Those gathered examine the Propers of the upcoming Sunday. The Introit and Collect of the Day are prayed to begin. We then move into the Old Testament reading, the Psalm, the Epistle, and the Gospel. Of course, we are not able to exhaustively cover each text, but I am able to show what ties them all together and move toward the goal of my sermon.
This upcoming Sunday is the Last Sunday of the Church year. The text for the Gospel appointed is the Parable of the Ten Maidens. Much like my Friday class is not an exhaustive look at every detail, this post will not be, either, but one thing in particular stuck out to me. In verse 9, after the foolish maidens demand oil for their lamps from the wise maidens, the wise maidens tell the foolish ones to go to the dealers and buy for themselves.
My first thought was that this exemplified their foolishness in the greatest way. Not only did they not show up prepared with enough oil, they actually made their way to the dealers at midnight as if they were able to purchase oil at such an hour. Midnight begs us to recall the Passover, for it was at midnight when Yahweh struck down all the firstborn males in the land of Egypt of man and beast while at the same time delivering Israel from such a death by means of the blood of the lamb upon the wood of the door. Inside, there was safety and security, not to mention a feast! Outside, there was screaming, crying out in distress, and the stench of death. When midnight came and God was passing through Egypt (and “over” Israel), there was no time for the Egyptians to go out to the shepherds and buy a lamb, slaughter it, and spread the blood on their doors. There was no time for Pharaoh to repent. It was too late for them.
To return to the text: why does Jesus have the wise maidens say in the parable for the foolish ones to go to the dealers? Why can’t they run home and get more? Why can’t they go to the next house over? Surely there is plenty to spare somewhere! Why aren’t they able to stand in the light of the wise maidens’ lamps? None of those will work. They must go to the dealers. But why is this detail given? Who are they?
The dealers are the ones who have what they need. They are the stewards of the oil. They have what is necessary for making one wise which leads to the marriage feast. The dealers are pastors, stewards of the oil that keep the lamps burning, namely the Word, for “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105), and the Sacraments. The foolish maidens were of the opinion that they were in the right place. They knew enough about the things of God to get by. They at least remembered that the Bridegroom had said He was coming and where He would be! They knew the right things to say, after all, they even knew enough to call upon the Bridegroom as Lord! They went to meet Him—just like everyone else. But their foolishness lied in the fact that they had separated themselves from that Word. Their oil was very low to the point of running out. They had no sense that the Bridegroom would delay, and we have biblical evidence of what happens to fools when the one leading them delays! There is idolatry. There is debauchery. The same fate awaited King Solomon who was the wisest of the wise. As soon as he separated himself from the Word and began worshiping the gods of his 700 wives and 300 concubines and erecting high places for them, his wisdom turned to foolishness.
Point being: go to your dealers. Your dealers have what you need. They have the pure oil for your lamps—namely, Word and Sacrament. There’s no need to save up funds to purchase anything. They give it freely and joyfully as the prophet Isaiah declares, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth” (Isaiah 55:1, 10-11).
And for you who are the dealers, be good and faithful dealers. For this is the Great Commission in a nutshell, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Give them the Word and Sacraments. Fill their lamps with the oil that makes them wise and ready for the Bridegroom. At midnight comes the cry, and all that will save is once again the blood of the Lamb that was upon the wood of the cross which now is poured out from the dealer’s chalice onto the lips and tongues of the wise.
The midnight cry is coming. Those who are outside have indeed fooled themselves. Their oil is running dry. Their lights will flicker and extinguish. They will cry out, “Lord, Lord!” to no avail. The door will have been shut, and there will be screaming, crying out in distress, and the stench of death outside. But for you who continue faithful in receiving from your dealers the Word and Sacrament, your cups run over. You will enter into the wedding hall where there is safety and security, not to mention a feast!