As I believe I have previously mentioned, Dr. Doug Adams of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley once suggested a most helpful exercise when exploring the message (and comedy) of Jesus’ parables: put them in a modern context and see what emerges. Chances are, surprising meaning and mirth will jump off the page. Aspects of the story that are often troublesome and otherwise inexplicable now make sense. And, the teaching becomes quite funny! You get to see why the word “parable” is, in fact, synonymous with “riddle,” and why Jesus indeed was a quite the comic Messiah.
This Sunday’s lectionary gospel text is Matthew 25:1-13, popularly known as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.” While we may think this is Jesus teaching about remaining in a state of mind to “just say no,” he actually is using this parable to warn people to remain prepared for his Second Coming even if it takes place at a much later time than expected. Like wise virgins who, when invited to a wedding feast, bring plenty of oil so they are ready to light their lamps of welcome even if the bridegroom is very tardy; we, too, must make sure we carry plenty of “spiritual oil” so we can burn bright with God’s welcoming Spirit no matter how long we have to wait for Christ's return.
One of the big problems people today have with this parable is the callous behavior the overdue bridegroom shows the foolish virgins who haven’t prepared properly by bringing enough oil. Fearing scarcity, the wise virgins won’t share their stash, so the foolish have to go out and find replenishment for their now dried-up lamps. By the time they get back to the party, now in process and with the wise virgins as a part, the bridegroom summarily states he doesn’t recognize the foolish virgins. He shuts the door on them, and that is that. The poor rejectees are presumably doomed to that awful non-party place of eternal weeping and gnashing teeth where all “baddies” go.
It’s hard to reconcile this harsh bridegroom with our supposedly always loving, gracious Lord who the bridegroom is supposed to represent. So what if some of the gals didn’t bring enough oil? It’s not like they’re murderers of Koch brothers. Sheesh.
Maybe there is something that will come to light (pun sort of intended) if we put this parable in a modern context. Plus, maybe we’ll find some humor in this otherwise austere tale.
I thought about who in our contemporary world might invite a lot of virgins to his party, who would host a party of the "blowout" variety similar to ancient near eastern wedding feasts that contemporary invited virgins would be most intent on attending, and who as host might arrive much later than expected. One person in particular came to mind.
Perfect! Plus, he’s a man who many hold in similar esteem to Jesus. AND, he lives in a place called Graceland. Perfect and Perfect!
Plus, the guy had a fetish for women who made themselves up to resemble his mama.
Here, then, is my “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Elvis Groupies.”
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten groupies went to meet the King following a concert at Caesar’s. Five of them were foolish and five of them were wise. The foolish had brought no extra makeup, while the wise had brought plenty of extra thick black mascara and eye-liner, extra baby pink lipstick, and pale powder. As the King was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the King! Come down the driveway and meet him.' Then all the groupies got up to fix their faces, for their skin had become oily and makeup-smeared from the long wait and nap. The foolish said to the wise, 'Do you mind sharing your cosmetics, for we look like a mess.' But the wise replied, 'Sorry, we need all this extra black mascara and eyeliner and extra baby pink lipstick and pale powder. You know what the King likes. You’ll need to go to the store and get your own.' The groupies with no extra makeup went out to find what they needed, and it took awhile because even though 7-11’s in Vegas carry plenty of this stuff, the lines were really long as the middle of the night is Vegas’ most-busy shopping time. The King arrived at Graceland, and those who were fully dolled-up were ready to go in and party, party, party. Later, finally, the other groupies, now properly presentable, showed up and asked the guard at Graceland’s gate -- Elvis’ second cousin fifth-removed – if they could now be given entrance. But when the King (now of course quite drunk) came out to see what the present commotion at the gate was all about, he replied (as he wobbled significantly, unable to see straight), 'WHO THE HELL ARE YOU???' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. "
Okay then, this modern rendering solves the mystery of the bridegroom’s lack of recognition and blunt rejection of the poor foolish virgins: by the time they’ve arrived to party, he’s three sheets to the wind! Of course Jesus would use this scenario to teach about the importance of being prepared…after all, wasn’t he a drunkard and a glutton, or at least accused of being these things by his opponents?
I can imagine Jesus giving a sly grin and a wink as he then tells his crowd to “Keep awake...” after he’s done his best “faux sotted stumble.” I can see the crowd giggling at Jesus’ clever antics, and the bigger picture they communicate. And then, especially because this was something enjoyable to learn, the hearers remember and want to follow what their merry Messiah just commanded.
Them’s my two cents from Graceland, anyway!