THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Life is made up of Insiders and Outsiders of one sort of another. It’s the Outsiders that I find myself thinking about today, all those who feel as if they don’t belong. Newcomers come to mind, whether to a new neighborhood or a new country or a new school. No one labels them Outsiders but down deep, they might very well feel that way.
I think, too, of widows and widowers feeling out of place in groups of married couples. The elderly as well, housebound and watching life from their living room window. Those who struggle with mental illness and depression. Children who are bullied, and then also those who bully, for down deep bullies want to be Insiders, desperately so, and thus grasp at it however they can. And so many others, Outsiders in a world that seems to cater to Insiders.
The gospel this weekend is the parable of the 10 virgins who go out to meet the bridegroom, five of them wise and five foolish. The bridegroom is late, and the five foolish run out of oil for their lamps and so leave to buy some (though the parable never explains where someone might go to buy oil after midnight). When they return (presumably with oil), they find that the bridegroom has already arrived and gone in, and now the doors are locked. They knock; the bridegroom says he doesn’t know them; they find themselves locked out.
Insiders and Outsiders.
The usual take on the parable is that we should make sure that we are prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom, i.e. the Lord. Don’t find yourself an Outsider to eternal life. However, the parable begins, “The kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” The parable does not begin, “The kingdom of heaven will be like five wise virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom.” In other words, the parable seems to suggest that the kingdom of heaven (i.e., not the place where God lives but rather the reign of God in our midst, the power of God, the very presence of God rippling through life) consists of both Insiders and Outsiders, the wise and the foolish, those who do everything right and those who blow it and feel locked out. They all belong to God’s reign.
It seems that often institutional religions of any and every ilk are good at dividing us into Insiders and Outsiders. Imagine, if you will, a visitor arriving from some far away planet for the purpose of conducting a sociological study of how people live on planet earth and, specifically, how they worship their supreme being. After much observation, the visitor concludes that those who gather on Sundays to pray together are thought to have an inside track on goodness, eternal life and being pleasing to their supreme being. In short, they are considered Insiders who will live with their supreme being forever.
The extraterrestrial visitor also discovers that there are those considered to be Outsiders. They are those who sleep in on Sunday mornings, those who don’t follow the Bible, and those whose sexuality does not conform to various and numerous stipulated norms. Furthermore, the visitor concludes that this people’s supreme being must be primarily interested in human sexual behavior as it seems that the longest list of sins are of those that deal with sexuality and its expression. The visitor wonders to what extent their supreme being is really concerned about such realities. It seems strange thinking to the visitor given that there are so many earthlings who are hungry and sick and homeless. In fact, the one whom many earthlings particularly revere, one known as Jesus the Christ, did not seem overly concerned about sexuality from all accounts of his teachings that have been passed on. To this visitor, those teachings more often speak of compassion for the weak and those in need, of forgiveness and welcoming the unwelcomed. Thus, our visitor from some far-away planet returns home a bit confused about earthlings, their worship, and the supreme being in whom they believe.
Of course, my fanciful account of some extraterrestrial visitor is just that – a fanciful account. Yet one might wonder how or even if the God of Jesus deals in terms of Insiders and Outsiders, or if it is merely our own wishful thinking that seems to make it so, all of us a bit like bullies desperate to be Insiders.
How do you see yourself as an Insider and how as an Outsider?
Do you think sin can make one an Outsider with God?