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Bridesmaids

Rev. Harry Currie

Sept 10, 2023

Zechariah 4:6-8, Ephesians 1:3-10, Matthew 25:1-13

12 years ago, the movie comedic movie Bridesmaids was released and was significant for its financial success, but significant because of the doors it opened for women in the film industry. In a film genre dominated by men, this film cast women in all six leading roles, and proved that women could act just as well as men in comedies, and be financially successful as well.

       Furthermore, the film attacked the patriarchal stereotypes around the craziness of marriage, and the hitherto understanding of the male ritual of bachelor parties, by saying that women can party just as hard and have just as much fun and be just as stupid as men before the upcoming nuptials.

 

       There are critics of this movie who suggest that the best way to prove that women don’t have to follow patriarchal stereotypes of women, is not to do as these bridesmaids do by following male stereotypes of drinking, raunchiness and utter stupidity before a wedding…

       …and they probably have a point…

 

       But the film is noted for putting women on the map for comedic acting, and for them having the freedom in the movie to be who they want to be.

 

       The plot is not overly complicated as the bride Lillian and her five bridesmaids plan for the wedding and of course plan events before the wedding such as how to celebrate the end of Lillian’s single status.

 

       The tension exists between Lillian’s best friend Annie, a single woman in her thirties who lost her business, and her boyfriend and is struggling a bit both financially and emotionally, and Helen, the wife of Lillian’s fiance’s boss, who is beautiful and rich.

       Who is going to be the maid of honour? While Annie has a fairly simple straightforward plan for a stagette ( the woman’s version of the bachelor party) and wedding, Helen’s ideas are over the top and extravagant and expensive. The movie does a good job in exploring the tension and the thinly veiled dislike the two women have for each other.

 

       And so, as we come to a parable of Jesus, the ten bridesmaids, or in the King James version of the bible, the ten virgins. I want us to pick up three of the themes from the Bridesmaids movie.

 

       The first is that of stereotyping. While the film Bridesmaids seeks to challenge stereotypes, we should think of challenging the stereotypes of this Bridesmaids parable. It is very easy to stereotype this parable and read into it all sorts of things that are not actually in the parable.

       The Patriarchal and Empire reading of this parable has become so common and so widespread it is actually hard to see the parable in new lights.

      

       And the second theme is that of tension between the bridesmaids. In the movie is it between the two candidates for Maid of Honour. The parable itself says that five were wise and five were foolish, and I think we have to look more seriously at the tension between them. There is something significant there.

 

       And the third theme for us to pick up is the comedic theme. Bridesmaids the movie is a comedy. It is actually not real life, but a story designed to make one laugh. A Parable while not a joke is often a form of Jesus comedy. It makes us look at things in new and surprising and even funny ways. This parable has been interpreted in very serious and deathly ways. Is there a graceful, happy ending, even funny way to read the parable? When Jesus told it maybe people smiled or laughed.

       We have lost so much of the humour in the bible and the humour of Jesus by turning everything into life and death, or heaven and hell, so much so, that sometimes we forget that Jesus encouraged us to celebrate and party.

       The parable of the ten bridesmaids. It sounds like a joke. Did you hear the one about the ten bridesmaids who went to a party and they didn’t have the party?

 

       Ten bridesmaids went to a party and the groom was so late, they all fell asleep. Waking up through the night, five of the bridesmaids realized they didn’t have enough oil. They asked the other bridesmaids for oil, but the wise ones didn’t share their oil.

       The five foolish bridesmaids went to buy oil and when they came back the groom had come and the doors were closed and when they cried out to be let in, the bridegroom said he didn’t know them.

       And the punch line is this. Watch out, for you don’t know when the bridegroom comes.

 

       And for generations the traditional interpretation has been that Jesus is coming back to take you to heaven and if you are not watching and not prepared. Boom. Christ will bar the door, you won’t get into heaven, and you will spend all eternity in hell.

       The joke will be on you.

 

 

       I call that the Patriarchal and Empire reading, because it is a reading that has over the centuries been primarily given by rich males who have power. It is the traditional reading of the church institution who thought, they were the ones with the keys to heaven and hell; and used hell as the big stick to scare you into being good little Christians and doing what the church institution told you to do; which by the way conveniently was what Empire wanted you to do.

       And just to give you an example of this. The Greek text in verse 13 is translated this: Watch, therefore because you do not know the day nor the hour.

The King James version actually adds these words “that the Son of Man comes”

       That is not in the text. So, for hundreds of years the understanding is that the bridegroom is Jesus, but is it really? The parable doesn’t say it is Jesus.

 

       This parable according to many interpreters has so questions, so many inconsistencies, so many holes in it, it is like a sieve.

       Let us start with one of the first ones. The Greek word parthenoi is translated as bridesmaids or virgins, depending on your version of scripture. It actually means a very young woman, so young in fact she is unlikely to have sex. We are talking basically girls about the age of 12 or 13.

       The emphasis here is not on sexuality but on being young.

       And so, when the people first heard the story they heard about ten young girls who were part of the wedding celebration.

 

       Where is the bride? Never appears. Why is the bridegroom so late in coming? Why are the bridesmaids the bad ones, why isn’t the bridegroom the bad one?

       Why do you have to take your own oil to a wedding? I don’t take a flashlight or food or anything to a wedding reception.  A wedding present. Yes. But all the other things are there.

       Why won’t the 5 wise girls share? Surely that is the Christian thing to do.

       And where do 12-year-old girls go to buy oil in the middle of the night. Walmart? Superstore? Nobody is open.

       Why are the girls shut out forever when we believe that Jesus came to save foolish people like us. He died for all sinners.

       And really…. Jesus shuts out 12-year-old girls from heaven because he was late, and they didn’t know they would need 24 hours of oil.

 

I wonder too. Is Jesus poking fun at somebody or someone?

 

       Who does Jesus think the bridesmaids are? Who does Jesus think the groom is?

 

       Or maybe, that is the whole point of the parable itself. Maybe Jesus gives a parable full of holes and questions, so we start thinking and questioning and wondering.

       Maybe there isn’t an answer to why and whom and where and when, but that it is an exercise is to make our minds think about the kingdom.

 

       Maybe.

 

Maybe let me try some alternative readings of this parable, just for fun.

 

       How about the bridegroom is the Beast. The Bridegroom is the Roman Empire and it is about to marry the Jewish Leaders.

       And the foolish girls and the wise girls are the Jewish people. And the wise ones are the ones who want to buy into the Empire and serve the Beast as Lord and who bring lots of oil to suck up to the beast. And they are wise because they are going to profit from the Beast and the Empire by being in league with it.

       And maybe the foolish ones are the ones who don’t really want to go along with the beast and the Empire and so the Empire shuts them out.

 

       And we have to be on guard for when the beast comes and be careful we are not giving everything to the beast.

 

       Or how about the bridegroom is male patriarchy, and men ruling the world, and there are wise girls who have the wisdom to go along with the system, and they are women who want to buy into the patriarchal system the way it is, so they won’t be shut out, and the foolish girls resist and are shut out by men.

 

       Or maybe the bridegroom is some form of Capitalism or Materialism and the foolish girls are the poor, and the wise girls are the rich. The rich don’t want to share with the poor, and so they make sure that the poor girls are shut out.

 

       Why are we so sure the wise girls are really wise and the foolish girls are really foolish? Didn’t Paul the apostle talk about being a fool for Christ’s sake.

 

       Maybe Jesus himself is one of the foolish girls and the Powers of this world, shut the door on him by executing him and sending him to hell.

 

       Or maybe the oil is grace. Maybe the oil is forgiveness, and love, and kindness, and compassion, all given out to others free of charge.

 

       Maybe the foolish girls are the ones who have been giving away the grace and the wise ones are hoarding their grace.

       The wise ones are not sharing, not giving grace.

Maybe this parable is a parable that is turned on its head and the ones who are shut out are the ones actually doing ministry in this world, pouring out grace on the needs of others, while the wise ones are partying and looking out for themselves, but have shut the door on the needs of others and the rest of the world.

 

       And we need to stay awake and see Christ in others, see Christ in the poor, and see Christ in the needy, and share the oil of grace with them.

       Maybe Greed is the bridegroom and we don’t want to go into the bridegroom of greed.

       We want to be locked out by greed, so that we can share the oil of grace with the rest of the world.

 

       Could it be that Jesus is actually poking fun at Religious Leaders and Political Leaders, and Patriarchy and Materialism and all that inhibits the kingdom of grace.

       And all those that the world considers wise are having a big party, while the poor girls whom the world considers foolish, who don’t have much, are locked outside, sharing their grace with the rest of the world.

 

       And where is Jesus in the story? Maybe he is locked outside with the poor girls and with the poor, and the disenfranchised.

 

       What I do believe is that there are millions upon millions of people waiting for Jesus to come… or waiting to be happy, or waiting for justice, or waiting for the kingdom to come, or waiting for the right moment to act…

 

       And all the while Jesus has come every day and almost every hour.

       He comes in loving families. He comes in the middle of worship. He comes in the faces of the hungry, the needy, the sick and the outcast. He comes wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name.

       He comes wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever people advocate for justice, wherever people stick up for the rights of women, or racialized minorities, or religious minorities or whatever discriminated group.

       Jesus comes when you pray and Jesus lives in your heart and Jesus’ kingdom is within you.

 

       Meanwhile millions are waiting and miss Jesus, or miss life, or miss love, or miss happiness, or miss the apocalypse, because Jesus is happening all the time.

 

       Couple of weeks ago we had an African Cultural Celebration. We had Marimbas and drums and bagpipes and choirs; and we sang a lot of African music; and we had a lot of dancing up and down these aisles; and I saw Jesus dancing too.

       We had so much joy, so much positive energy, so much love, so much food and nobody was shut out of the party and everybody was welcome.

       We had foolish girls and wise girls and foolish boys and wise boys all dancing up a storm with Jesus.

       It was very unPresbyterian, but very full of the Holy Spirit.

       Jesus was there.

 

       And the next day we had a funeral service and members of this church supported Mary Johnson and her family in their grief and in their loss and Jesus was there too.

       We don’t have to wait for Jesus to appear. Jesus is coming all the time.

 

       And the other thing I know is that everyone has oil. Everyone has love. Everyone has grace. Everyone has forgiveness. Everyone has friendship to offer. Everyone can pour out grace upon others

 

       And the weird thing is that the more you pour out grace, the more you will have.

       Like Elijah’s poor Widow whose oil never ran out once she shared her morsel with Elijah, so too your love will never run out as long as you keep sharing it.

 

       The tension in the Bridesmaids movie between plain and poor Annie and rich and beautiful Helen, mounts and grows until Annie loses it, throws a tantrum and destroys the décor at the extravagant bridal party. The bride Lillian kicks Annie out of the shower, the wedding, and even her life, ending their friendship.

       She metaphorically locks the door and says: “I never knew you.”

 

       But that is not how the movie ends. Annie starts to take control of her life, resumes baking, fixes her car and has a visit from Helen on the day of the wedding. Helen comes to Annie for help, because the bride Lillian is overwhelmed and has gone missing.

 

       Annie helps her find Lillian, the wedding is saved, and Annie is reconciled to her best friend Lillian, and becomes friends with her arch enemy Helen.

       Annie also reconciles with Nathan, the on and off boyfriend she recently met during all these wedding adventures.

       It is a happy ending, a gospel ending in the sense of good news. Reconciliation.

 

       You know, one of the interpretations for the parable of the bridesmaids is that it is all about the church.

 

       And the church is the bridegroom and the church is late to help the poor, and the church are the bridesmaids, and the church’s job is to share the oil, and the church is divided about the use of the oil. And sometimes the church holds onto the oil and doesn’t share. And sometimes the church slams the door on others and says: “I never knew you.”

 

       And sometimes…. Sometimes… the church repents of its ways, opens its doors, shares its oil and becomes a fountain of grace; And sometimes the church welcomes people, and is a place of reconciliation and forgiveness, and becomes a family of love, and is a home where Jesus is found every day.

       And that is worth celebrating.

                                                                                              Amen.

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