I think that Jesus' strange story in today's Gospel needs a little update. I'm going to re-tell it, and while I do so, I challenge our children and youth to find at least two situations in this story that are unfair. OK?
Instead of virgins with oil lamps, let's say there are 10 travelers down at gate B-26 of the Louisville airport. They are there to take a 5 p.m. plane out of town. Five of these travelers are foolish, and five are wise.
The foolish ones brought carry-on bags but didn't pack any food to take with them. The wise, however, are prepared. They have sandwiches in their carry-ons.
As you can imagine, there are thunderstorms somewhere over Atlanta, and the plane is delayed! The travelers sit and sit at the gate, as each new promised arrival time comes and goes. Exhausted, they begin to dose, slumped over in their chairs.
By 8 p.m., hunger pangs wake them up. It's way past dinner time. The airline representative at the counter says that their plane could land any minute now! The wise travelers pull out their sandwiches and start munching.
The foolish travelers plead, "Hey, could we please have some of your food? We're too hungry to last much longer."
The wise travelers grumble, "No way! We may not have enough if we share with you. Just go down the concourse and buy some food at a restaurant."
They head off as fast as they can down to the nearest fast-food joint. But while they are on their way to buy food, the plane arrives!
The travelers who stayed at the gate board the plane, and the attendants shut and secure the door with big metal bolts.
Just then, the foolish travelers also come running up, MacDonald's bags in hand. "Please, please," they shout, "Open the door for us! We need to go home!"
But the airline official refuses, and the plane taxies off down the runway. They are left behind.
That's the story. So now, what is unfair here? (Get answers.)
First, is it fair that the supposedly "wise" travelers get rewarded for hoarding their food? They don't share, and yet they're the ones who get on the plane.
Secondly, is it fair that the plane is late? That's what causes the problem in the first place, right? If the plane had just been on time, then everyone could have gotten on without waiting or needing any supper. Flights are supposed to run on time.
Also, is it fair that the attendants bar the plane door so quickly? Couldn't they have waited on the passengers who go to get food? After all, it is supper time, and they have been waiting for so long.
As usual, Jesus is messing with our minds in telling us such a bizarre and unfair story. He's shaking us up, trying to get us to see God and one another differently. As soon as we decide that God is calling some travelers wise and others foolish, we remember the words of St. Paul: "if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools … for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." As soon as we tell ourselves that God rewards the ones who pack a dinner and refuse to share, Jesus says, "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." As soon as we decide that the attendant who shuts the doors of the plane on the late arrivals is supposed to represent Christ, we hear Jesus say: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in [people's] faces." Instead of trying to make sense of this crazy story, let's enter into it.
I bet that we have all been in the situation of waiting for hours for a delayed flight, hungry and tired and bored and upset. Can you imagine yourselves back there in that place? It's a spiritually dark and desolate place to be. You're uncomfortable in body and in spirit. You get rather hopeless and desperate sitting there, maybe even angry. You feel captive. You're not in control, and nobody seems to care.
The world we live in can make us feel like that, too, sometimes, can't it? In his Convention address yesterday, Bishop Terry read us a list of statements that our youth wrote down at last month's Fall Gathering. They were asked, "What is true about the world?" Listen to the words of our 13-18 year-old Episcopalians, verbatim:
"We can't control the world." "Cheating is fine if it gets you ahead." "Money equals power." "Sometimes you can do everything right and still fail." "Not everyone has a voice." "Women are not equal to men." "Sex sells." "Cheating can bring success." "A lot of what you know isn't true." "Everybody dies but not everyone lives." "We live in a crazy world."
The world that our young people describe so painfully here is indeed like sitting trapped at a gate at the airport. It's like sitting in the darkness of midnight, with no oil to light your lamp.
When we find ourselves in this dark world, we often try to deal with it on our own. We're told that if we can just be prepared for it, then we can survive it. We haul around bags and bags of stuff that we think will protect us from want. We're encouraged to buy weapons or build walls that we think will keep us safe. We run around in panic like the foolish travelers, thinking that we can buy our way to comfort and security and contentment. Or we turn inward like the so-called wise travelers, bent on looking out only for Number 1. Or, like the airline employee, we trade in compassion for strict rules, barring the door and refusing to welcome the wayward traveler on board with us.
What our youth did at All Saints' that weekend with Father Bill and Mother Katherine and Bishop Terry was a different response, however. They each went outside and gathered an armful of rocks, with one rock to represent each care or worry that weighs them down. They lugged these stones into their sacred place and sat down together on the floor. After talking about their burdens, they brought the rocks forward and laid them on the altar together. They laid their cares in the lap of God, and they prayed together and shared Eucharist together. They found solace in God's presence and in mutual support and understanding. They got a glimpse into the Kingdom of God.
In a few minutes, we are going to come up to the altar with our pledge cards and lay them down. I invite us to follow the lead of our youth. Lay down your burdens here, as well as your gifts. Give and receive and take a peek at God's Kingdom in this place. We may all be waiting for God, but in Christ, we don't play a zero-sum game. In Christ, we carry one another's burdens and lift up one another's joys. We share what we have, and everyone has enough. Like Christ, we welcome those among us who have made mistakes and those who have wandered. Our doors are always open. We have no need to run off somewhere to get our own food, because we receive Christ himself in bread and wine, and he is inside of us, loving us and building us up from within. This is the vision of God's Kingdom that Jesus brings to our troubled world.
Image found at https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-sign-all-gates-airport-direction-to-image32744594
 My interpretation of this parable is based on a sermon by David R. Henson, "The Breaking of the Bridesmaids: Rethinking a Problematic Parable." Found at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2014/11/the-breaking-of-the-bridesmaids-how-scripture-undermines-a-parable/
 1 Cor. 3:18
 Matt. 19:30
 Matt. 23:13
 John Shea, On Earth as it is in Heaven: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers , Matthew, Year A (Collegeville, MN: Order of St. Benedict, 2004), 317.