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Archive for April 27th, 2018


Matthew 25:1-13: The Duality of Mercy

Friday, April 27, 2018

Phoebe Traquair: The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Some time ago, I heard a lecture concerning the difference between mercy and leniency that piqued my interest since the point of the lecture was that God uses tough love. God is always ready to forgive; God is always abiding. But we benefit most from this gift of loving kindness when we move toward redemption. We blossom with newness when we make reparations. We acknowledge God’s overarching authority when we agree to suffer well in God’s duality of mercy.

God is all merciful and compassionate, and God wants us to recognize and then work on our flaws. If we continually run away from our mistakes rather than fixing them, we reject the reason for our existence. When we refuse to repair the damage we have done, we avoid blooming into the potential God engendered in us at our inception. When we blame family, friends, colleagues and systems for our own unrepaired flaws, we miss the opportunity God wants for us to learn about the duality of mercy, mercy laced with a justice that saves even the most lost of souls.

As a child, I puzzled over the parable of The Ten Virgins, asking my mother why the five wise girls did not share lamp oil with others as we were taught to do in our large family. With wisdom-tinged sadness, Mother told me we usually learn life’s hardest lessons with the biggest bumps, and that, ultimately, it was God who understood our suffering best. Being locked out of the feast seemed an injustice to me, and yet as I grew I better understood the intelligence of Mother’s words. We learn most when we suffer. We learn deepest when we apologize. I began to picture God the party-giver flinging open the door to the feast to right a wrong, to invite the five foolish girls to enter after all. And perhaps this is what God does. But first, I now imagine as an adult, God insists that the five who scoffed at the prudent wisdom of those who prepared well must admit to their own selfishness in going to the feast unprepared. First, I now see as an adult, God moves us to look inward to see what needs repairing rather than outward to see whom we might blame. First, God says to them gently yet firmly, you must learn to trim the wick of your lamp. You must learn to conserve the resources I lend to you. First, you must open your heart to the duality of mercy.

Our roots go deeper and our branches reach higher when we examine ourselves with God’s merciful justice. Our lives have more meaning and our sharing is more authentic when we learn the lessons taught by God’s unprejudiced compassion. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, I still hear Mother saying. Yet the closed door at the feast feels so final and absolute, and so I continue to imagine another ending in which the door opens, the five apologize and amend their egocentric and imprudent ways, and the master invites everyone in to join in the feast.

Like the five foolish virgins, we must look to ourselves and make changes. Like the five wise virgins, we must continue in our prudence and wisdom despite the pressures of life. Like the many faithful seated at the Kingdom’s table, we must learn the language of God’s merciful justice in order to fully take part in the feast.


Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Ten_Virgins

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