JOSHUA Reaping What You Did Not Sow

Chapter 24, the final chapter of Joshua, begins with Joshua relating Israel’s story to the people as they are gathered to hear his last testament to the people of God gathered at Schechem. And Joshua tells them of the nature of the gift they have received from God:

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. (Joshua 24:13 (ESV)

This is a world in which we all strive to make more than we take, in which we admire self-reliance, in which we claim “I built this!” And take great pride in what we build, accumulate, and leave behind. We earn what we earn, digging and hewing and carving it out of the very ground we walk upon.

We earn. It’s what we do. It’s what we strive to. We labor. It is honest, decent, moral. To earn our daily bread. I want to earn. I want to work and draw a paycheck or even sing for my supper. I want to know I’ve done honest labor, can care for my family, and even help support others. An orphanage in India I have been aching to help.

But Joshua reminds Israel that they did not earn this land. And have they not worked it. They reap fruit they did not sow in a land that was full of people they have driven out, killed, conquered, and enslaved. I suspect this strikes many of us as tremendously unjust — especially in a world where war and conquest, occupation and imperialism, are viewed with great disdain, as fundamentally immoral acts.

Western Christians — at least some of us — are repenting of these things, and repudiating church teachings that proclaimed lands already full of people actually empty, places open for conquest and settlement. We condemn this kind of thing, we do not celebrate it.

And we certainly don’t attribute this kind of gift to God.

All this reminds me of the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:11–27. It’s a harsh parable, especially when it comes to the servant who was so afraid that he did nothing with the sum he’d been entrusted with:

20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 19:20–26 ESV)

I’ve heard lots of attempts to turn this into a critique of the political and economic system of the empire in which God is not complicit, none of them ring true, I believe the harsh master off to claim the kingdom in another land is Christ1, and he is returning to the judge the church — his followers who have been entrusted with the wealth of God in the absence of our master.

And this brief passage from Joshua bolsters that view. God does, in fact, give to those who have not earned, who did not deserve. God takes from those too frightened to live (and maybe sin) boldly in faith. Many reap who never sowed seeds of wheat, and much sowing is done by those who will never take a scythe to the grain they have planted. Who will never thresh.

Earlier in Luke 12, Jesus tells the story of a rich fool who takes comfort knowing his silos are full of grain, who relaxes to eat and drink, not knowing he will die that night.

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Is God just or unjust here? Perhaps because this parable is a critique of wealth, couched in terms of inevitable and inescapable death, that we can accept it. We will all die. We will all leave behind things, the wreckage of our lives, that will become the possessions of others. The parable of the minas is different. It suggests a coming judgment — and like many of the judgment stories in Luke, it’s a harsh and brutal judgment — in which God will actively take from one who has little and give to one who already has more than enough.

Like the parable of the minas, however, this gifting of the land — a land already populated with women and men, old and young, full of cities and fields — is conditioned upon Israel’s adherence to the covenant. And we are about to reach that moment in the biblical narrative in which the Israel will begin to reap the consequences of its failure to do as God commanded when the gift of this land was made. God will stop fighting for Israel. Eventually, this land will vomit Israel out. Just as God said it would.


  1. I believe the allusion here is to Vespasian, the Roman general who in the midst of the Jewish War, left with a legion to seize power in Rome, placing his son Titus in charge of besieging Jerusalem and destroying (accidentally, if press reports are to be believed) the city. ↩︎

Lost Sheep

A couple of events in the last few days (sorry, no details) have left me thinking hard about one of my favorite stories Jesus tells in the Luke’s gospel:

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. ’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

The first thing that occurs to me is while we often time think of Jesus hanging out with sinners, we don’t really have many narrative descriptions of Jesus supping with sinners. A few passages (I’ve not done an exhaustive study, and I promise I will). Mostly, what we have is Jesus supping with Pharisees and scribes, who then accuse him of spending too much time with sinners. Which is not quite the same thing.

But mostly I’ve thought about lost sheep.

Virtually everyone in the English-speaking world knows the first verse of “Amazing Grace,” and that marvellous line which says

I once was lost,
But now am found,
Was blind,
But now, I see.

Jesus speaks of a man who has a hundred sheep — a shepherd — and one wanders away. And he leaves the 99 behind, leaves them to fend for themselves (because they can, because together they are safe), to go find the sheep who has wandered off.

We use the world lost, as in missing or misplaced or we don’t know where it is. But the sheep isn’t so much missing as it was disconnected. Maybe the shepherd doesn’t know where it is, even as he searches to find his lost charge. But perhas the shepherd knows exactly where the sheep is.

(Because there are only so many places sheep can wander off to…)

Which means it isn’t lost at all. Instead, what you have is a frightened, anxious sheep that has no idea where it is. That feels like lost to the sheep, as it bleets and howls and its terror and panic, but it isn’t the same as being lost. It isn’t the same thing at all.

To be lost like this is to feel disconnected from the herd, from the community of people God cares for and has gathered. The community we know in our bones we belong to. The gathering we need to feel safe and secure, to know we are tended and cared for. The sheep isn’t lost — it’s alone, separated, and frightend. That’s a terror that can wrap us up tight, and it feels like we’re lost when we look around and see nothing familiar and no one we know and the darkness looms and we fear we’ll never make home alive, that we’ll die here, alone, in the wilderness, abandoned and lost.

But … The shepherd knows where we are. Even when we do not. The sheperd goes to find us. Because the shepherd knows we belong to him. And when we are found, when we no longer have cause to be anxious and afraid, then we can all celebrate. Because we are found.

Because we are found.

Pray Without Ceasing

As I was scanning through scripture, doing some research for an essay I’m working on, I came across a passage in Luke I needed to be reminded of. Something I am trying to do…

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary. ’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming. ’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 ESV)

“Pray and not lose heart.” (προσεύχεσθαι b αὐτοὺς καὶ μὴ ἐγκακεῖν — literally, not become despondent.) I’m trying not to lose heart. It’s been a hard few years, what with all the crap with the ELCA and not being able to find work or earn my own keep and now staying with friends (who are kind to take us in and keep us — but you be a grown adult utterly dependent on others for home and well-being). I know I have a book out, and things are beginning to happen, but it’s still incredibly demoralizing not to be able to find work (and how I have tried!) and take care of myself and my wife. It’s almost more than I can bear sometimes.

But pray and not lose heart. This is what the Evangelist Luke tells us. It’s also what St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)

I will try. To rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and not to lose heart.

The Lectionary This Week – More and More, Less and Less

Where I contemplate on the Sunday scripture readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Lectionary 33, 16 November 2014 (Year A)

  • Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
  • Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 25:14-30

Sigh. What a dismal set of readings this week, full of violence and destruction and the consigning of worthless slaves to outer darkness. Not even the psalm is much relief from the general tone of doom, judgment, and wrath. Might be a good Sunday to take off and go golfing.

But, of course, that just makes it interesting. So, I’m going to dive right into the gospel reading, the last parable Jesus tells in Matthew before he gives his account of the final judgment:

14 “For it [most likely the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more. ’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. ’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more. ’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. ’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours. ’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

Not much of what we understand as grace — God’s unearned mercy and love — in this. “I knew you to be a hard man … so I was afraid.” If the master is God, or Jesus returning to claim his disciples and followers (since the signs of the “close of the age” are what Jesus is telling his disciples about here in Matthew 24 and 25, it is a pretty good guess that the master is a stand-in for Jesus, just as the bridegroom was in the previous passage), there’s no grace here. This is about a trust, being given something, and then using it to some effect, to multiply what one has been given, return it to the master, and “enter into the joy” of the master. (Shades of the parable of the tenants from Matthew 21:33-46, where the crime of the tenants wasn’t so much the killing of the servants—or even the son—but rather the desire to keep all of the produce of the vineyard to themselves, and to refuse to give back to the landlord what belonged to the landlord. And note, the story of the coin and taxes to Caesar comes soon afterwards, noting that things are owed to God.)

The master has trusted his servants with something, and has some expectations of them—to produce a “return” on that trust.

The key phrase here is, I think, the very final verses of the parable:

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 

This phrasing appears once previously in Matthew, in chapter 13 with the long presentation and explanation of the parable of the sower, which goes like this:

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:1-9 ESV)

The disciples then ask Jesus why he speaks in parables, and he tells them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the great crowds, I think] it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:12-13 ESV)

For Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is a place of increasing marginal returns, where the more one has, the more one gets. Whether one is good soil, or rocky soil, or is eaten by birds, seems entirely random. But the focus isn’t at all on those that don’t hear, or don’t bear fruit, but rather on those that do. These parables are for them, and the seed that fell on good soil “is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Note here how 30 and 60 and 100 are the same. Because the issue is bearing fruit itself, not how much fruit is yielded. In the parable of the talents, the master is deeply unequal in what he trusts his slaves with. One gets five, another two, another a single talent. The servants who double their yield receive the same reward, regardless of what they started with. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Now enter the joy of your master.” So, there is little doubt the servant with the one talent would have received the same reward had he had not put what he was entrusted with to work in the world so he could return it with more to the master.

“I was afraid,” the servant says. And that fear paralyzed him into inaction. And he was not wrong to be afraid. The master does reap where he does not sow, and gathers what he does not scatter (again, Matthew 13 and the parable of the weeds; the man sows some, an enemy sows some, but the man who planted the good seed reaps all of it.)

The servant lets fear paralyze him. So much so he buries the money, the thing that has been entrusted to him, as if he is afraid of it. Afraid not just of his master, but what his master has entrusted to him. And given all that Jesus has been telling his disciples about what is coming—the judgement of Jerusalem—and what Zephaniah describes as coming, it’s easy to be afraid. To hunker down and hope the storm will pass over, that the judgment will come and go and if we stay very still and act like we are not here, maybe it will miss us completely.

But we are not called to live in that fear, to hide our light underneath bushel bushel baskets or bury it in the backyard (where someone could have stolen it!). Think of these talents, again, the way I thought about the oil last week—as the things Jesus has commanded us to do as we live as his followers, his called-out people, in the world. To live as Jesus tells his disciples at the end of this chapter, when the king tells those at his right hand:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. ’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? ’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)

This is what the master has entrusted to us—a life of self-giving love. And it bears fruit—a hundred, sixty, even thirty—when this trust is taken out into the world and spent and traded scattered far and wide! It is in this doing of righteous good deeds (to borrow a Qur’anic phrase) that we live and make the kingdom, that we prepare and wait for his coming.

* * *

As for Zephaniah, well, I won’t say much, except that this is a very blunt and even brutal account from God of what God will do to rebellious Israel. God is the author of the coming judgment, in all of its destructive wonder. I won’t say much about the Zephaniah passage–it’s typical judgment stuff–but God is explicit in the passage that God, and God alone, is the cause of Israel’s distress. While this could be universal destruction, the word here for “earth” is הָאָֽרֶץ, and it also means “land.” So the fire may merely consume the whole of land.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth
(Zephaniah 1:17-18 ESV)

(Me? I wrote a song based on 1 Thessalonians 4-5. I had some stuff around those who have getting more and those who don’t having even the little they have taken floating melodically through my head, but all in a minor key. And that really isn’t for kids. The 1 Thess song is almost bouncy…)

The Lectionary This Week – Fill Your Lamps

Where I contemplate on the Sunday scripture readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

Lectionary 32, 09 November 2014 (Year A)

  • Amos 5:18-24
  • Psalm 70
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • Matthew 25:1-13

I’m going to a little something different as I consider these lectionary readings this week.

The last time these readings rolled around was 2011. Kurt Hendel, a professor of church history and Lutheran confessions at LSTC, asked me to play a song I’d played earlier in the semester, “No People, No Pity,” one of two I wrote on prophetic judgment and promise for the confirmation kids at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Somonauk, Illinois, for a sermon he was set to preach in the seminary chapel the week of these readings.

I was not keen on playing the same song twice in one semester, so I told Dr. Hendel I’d write him a pair of songs based on the Amos reading and the Matthew reading. It wasn’t a commission as such, but what came out of this was “Fill Your Lamps” and “Let Justice Roll Down.” And writing these songs about this bit of the lectionary was actually quite eye opening.

First, the readings. I’ll start with Amos:

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5:18-24 ESV)

What we have hear is the passing of judgment on the Kingdom of Judah, following the long indictment of Israel and Judah (which themselves come after an indictment and judgement of Israel’s neighbors). It proclaims the “Day of the Lord,” which apparently some in Judah are eagerly awaiting. (Rapture, anyone?) Amos says that day will not go very well for those who actually want it to come. It will be a dark and frightful day, full of dread, and pain, and suffering, and death.

And now, the Matthew reading, which at first glance struck me as utterly unrelated:

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. ’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. ’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves. ’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us. ’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. ’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13 ESV)

Again, this is a judgment text, in a long line of Matthew judgment texts. And for Matthew, for the community Matthew speaks to (and for), escaping the coming judgment is hugely important. That some will be swept up in that judgment, and not ready for it, is also crucial to Matthew. I have written at length about judgment previously, and so I will set that aside today.

When I looked at these two texts, and considered how to make songs out of them, the thing that struck me most was how to balance them against each other, and how to make sense of them in terms of each other. The editors of the Revised Common Lectionary didn’t just simply pull them out of hat, or matched them together on a whim. There was a reason. To quote Craig Satterlee, “They may have actually known what they were doing.”

The link, I decided, was in the judgement of the deeds in question. In the Amos reading, God utterly rejects Israel’s worship, its sacrifices, its praises. They are meaningless, and God has promised to flood Israel and destroy it rather than heed worship and praises that were empty and pointless. The justice God plans is an annihilating justice, and it reminded me of desert storms that seemed to come out of nowhere, dump an intense and overwhelming amount of rain, and then as quickly as they came, simply move on or disappear. Gullies become temporary — and frequently dangerous — temporary rivers.

“Let Justice Roll Down” is a fairly straightforward rewording of the text, with my experience of desert rain (From New Mexico, California, and Saudi Arabia) informing how I understand the flood of justice that Amos is calling down. I’m not a “social justice” Christian, and I frequently find social justice talk smug and self-righteous, as most of those talk that talk seem to me to assume they are always on right side (or will be) of God’s justice. Amos here is reminding all who listen that God’s justice is overwhelming and annihilating — it destroys all in its path (Noah’s flood, for example).

We experience that annihilating justice as mercy in baptism. Because in baptism, we are put to death, we are annihilated, and then raised again. There is the prophetic promise of new life that Amos leaves to the last few verses of his long and somewhat frightening declaration of judgment. And at Kurt Hendel’s suggestion, I altered the repetition of the last verse to reflect the fact that even though these quick desert storms wash away and destroy, they also provide the necessary water for the plants of the desert to bloom. Desert plants bloom quickly and furiously after a even a short rain. New birth, new life, coming from the annihilating flood.

And now that I look at the passage, the desert comparison is even more apt, because Amos also wants “an ever-flowing stream.” After washing away the old, this new water will not be subject to the vagaries of the monsoon cycle, but rather, will bubble up and provide water so a garden can grow and thrive where once only parched plants and the hardiest of critters struggled to survive in the harshest of conditions.

I don’t remember if I played that revised second refrain in chapel or not when Dr. Hendel preached it. It wasn’t part of my original lyrics, and I’ve scrawled them at the bottom of the lyric page.

Okay, but how does this relate to the Matthew reading? I mean, aside from judgment, which I’m not really dealing with today? I thought a lot about the relationship between the actions condemned in Amos and approved of in Matthew. What might be the difference? God condemns empty worship for the sake of empty worship in Amos. But why might those who fill their lamps be the young women ready to meet the bridegroom here?

This is where I got creative with “Fill Your Lamps.” I’m going to post the lyrics to the son as well, and I hope you can see what I’ve done.

Fill your lamps with the oil of gladness
Fill your lamps with the oil of kindness
Keep your lamps full, wait for the Lord to come

Fill your lamps with the oil of healing
Fill your lamps with the oil of blessing
Keep your lamps full, wait for the Lord to come

Fill your lamps with the oil of patience
Fill your lamps with the oil of celebration
Wait for the Lord to come

Dark midnight’s coming, yet the Spirit pours
Abundant oil to anoint and to restore

Fill your lamps with the oil of friendship
Fill your lamps with the oil of worship
Keep your lamps full, wait for the Lord to come

Fill your lamps with the oil of compassion
Fill your lamps with love in action
Keep your lamps full, wait for the Lord to come

Fill your lamps with the oil of mercy
Fill your lamps with the oil of hospitality
Wait for the Lord to come

Behold, it’s midnight, and the bridegroom’s here!
In our darkest moment God’s light appears!

I made the oil, and the filling of the lamps, a metaphor for the commands Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere in Matthew, on how we should live together as the people of God. In effect, we fill our lamps and “wait for the Lord to come” by living as Jesus has called us to live — with self-giving love, compassion, mercy, and kindness. Our lives together as a community of people, the love we show to each other and to the world, is itself a form of waiting for the Lord. Yes, the implication is some will be ready and some will not. But that message is central to Matthew — some will, in fact, be ready, and some will not. Judgment is coming, the master is coming, the bridegroom is coming. We don’t know when. So be ready.

The main difference I saw when I wrote these two songs — Amos condemns acts aimed at solely pleasing God for the sake of pleasing God. By “filling the oil” with the content of the beatitudes here, Jesus is encouraging acts intended not to please God but to show love to neighbor by noting that such acts will also please God.

This song is an exhortation, and not a condemnation. But if I want to go that route, then something this approach to the reading suggests is that this Christian way of living together is not a commodity, not something that can be bought or bartered or traded. It cannot be given away either. It must be carefully cultivated, and it cannot simply be acquired at a moment’s notice. (And even the virgins who are ready fall asleep, and are awoken by the bridegroom.) Kindness. Mercy. Generosity. Love. These are not easy things. They are hard, and hard to live in an unkind and violent world.

Now, perhaps I am doing a tremendous injustice to the passage by making the oil (and the lamps) so metaphorical. I don’t know. I do know I like “Fill Your Lamps,” and it was one of my more inspired melodies. Because I don’t actually write musical notation, it took concerted effort to remember this melody (that happens a lot), some deliberate dwelling on it before it got properly lodged in that part of my memory that contains song melodies.

And so, I will be playing this song this coming Sunday at Grace Lutheran Church in Westchester, Illinois. Come out and listen, and maybe even sing it with me!