Today’s gospel reading we hear about the merits of being wise. God’s love for us is revealed to us in terms of wisdom. When we see a doctor or nurse, we hope they are wise and can help diagnose our ailment and offer us good care. When we listen to spiritual leaders addressing a community, we also hope that they offer wisdom. That there is something we can take away to make a positive change within our lives and the world. I heard one of those helpful messages earlier this week.
On Thursday some of us attended the Kristallnacht remembrance at Congregation Emmanu-el, the synagogue in downtown Victoria. Kristallnacht took place on November 8-9, 1934 when Nazi storm troopers together with members of Hitler Youth and others ransacked Jewish businesses and synagogues across Germany. It is regarded as a turning point, which not only turned Jewish life and livelihoods upside down, but normalized attacks on Jews. It helped pave the way towards the Holocaust, conditioning everyday Germans not to speak out as atrocities mounted. Following WWII there have been remembrances of Kristallnacht so we don’t let attacks like this go unchecked. Collective wisdom is needed so we don’t repeat this awful history.
I have been to several of these Kristallnacht remembrances in the past, but last week’s remembrance stood out. For one the synagogue was packed given war in the Holy Land and Jewish people feeling vulnerable. It felt more pressing to be present as a show of solidarity with Jewish friends and neighbours. I admired Rabbi Harry’s wisdom and ability in gatherings like this to rise above the current sense of crisis. He asked us all to consider the special community we share together in Victoria. While the whole world is in crisis, we have an opportunity to build something different together. We can work towards love for Jewish and Palestinian neighbours. We can push back against rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. That is a vision we can get behind and worth working towards.
I also think about ways we can stand together with Palestinians in Victoria and supporting Muslim neighbours in the mosque. Relationships matter now more so much. I’ve spent much of my time just checking in with folks and seeing how folks are doing. Listening to see how people are doing. When any of us aren’t feeling well, it feels good to know someone cares.
This is the wisdom I share from Rabbi Harry. Consider checking in with neighbours impacted. And not everyone was comfortable with his words. Some people bristled when he mentioned Palestinians and Islamophobia. So we know we’re in good company when we don’t feel fully comfortable. When we’re pushing the envelope a little. When calling for peace and a cease fire is considered radical, you know we’re doing the right thing.
Thinking about the parable in the gospel reading, it’s pretty confusing. We can get lost in the weeds, but the emphasis of wisdom rises to the top. One thing to keep in mind interpreting parables is not to take them too literally. Because once you go down that road you end up with some troubling conclusions about who God is and who we are.
Another wise voice this week I heard from was Min-Goo Kang, United Church spiritual care provider and pastor up the road at Broadview United. When discussing this text at Inclusive Christians in our small group he noted the gender dynamics at play. How the bridesmaids called wise or foolish are women. Meanwhile the bridegroom in the seat of judgment is a man. It’s helpful to think of the patriarchal tropes at work here. Stories like this can reinforce tropes about women being foolish. Whereas a man makes the same mistake and he’s called brash, intrepid, etc. One reason we don’t want to interpret this parable literally in saying that God is a man, for example, or that we as followers of Jesus, should subjugate ourselves to him like these bridesmaids. Lots of problematic gender dynamics that could be unpacked.
One helpful takeaway is wisdom includes being prepared. The wise bridesmaid take enough oil with them in their lamps. Most of us don’t have any oil lamps these days, but we can relate to having our batteries charged for a flashlight. If you’re camping and have to go use the outhouse and you don’t have a light. Sometimes the moonlight is enough to see your way, but often it’s about making sure no creatures are joining you for your midnight trip. I know when we go camping I’m often asked, “are the batteries still good in this flashlight?” My answer is often, “Probably good enough for one or two times we might use it. But I don’t look forward to the time I need a flashlight and don’t notice the bear that wanders into the campsite.
Maybe you have a wise voice in your life? Some one you look up to or a book you turn to in times of trouble? Later today or this week turn to that voice of wisdom. Think about how a mentor or a friend might help you navigate a tricky situation. Give them a call. Radical for some of us talking to someone on the phone.
This weekend we also remember fallen veterans in Canada. We think about the people in the armed forces who helped turn the tide in the war against Nazis. One way we honour their memory is to speak out against fascism when it rears its head in Canada. Lessons we learned from Kristallnacht include “never again” for Jewish friends and any group of people. We won’t turn our heads away or remain silent when we see genocide happening. A promise that we will be there for our neighbours in need. That we will speak up.
And remember that God’s love is for you. God’s love reveals itself as wisdom, navigating a challenging world. Amen.