Christ told us that we will know someone by their fruits. It's not what goes into someone's mouth but what comes out of it that is what defiles him. We see this from the high-profile places like politics and celebrities, all the way down to family and friends. Someone can say whatever it is they want to say, but it is their actions that we need to pay attention to. If someone says they are going to zig and instead they zag. The zag is what you pay attention to. The zag is the character of that person. The zag is what God sees, not the spoken zig.
A few weeks ago, Jesus told a brief parable about a man who had two sons, and to the first one he said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” The son responded that he would NOT, but later he changed his mind and went. What was his zig? His zig was an emphatic NO. What was his zag? He went and worked. The second son said that he would go and work in the field, but he did NOT go. What was his zig? YES. What was his zag? He did not act. He did not do the father's will.
Actions speak louder than words. In our Old Testament passage, we have in the last chapter of Joshua, the people of God—the chosen people of God—lying to Joshua. They say many times things like, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods,” and “We shall serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua responds, “If you forsake the Lord and turn to foreign Gods, great harm will come to you.” They respond, “No, we will serve the Lord!”
Now, we know that the Israelites go after false gods throughout the Old Testament, but how soon? Turn the page! The last chapter of Joshua precedes the first chapter of Judges, where we read that not only have the Israelites failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, like they were supposed to, but they have now gone after the false gods of those very same people they were to drive out. The Lord warned them that if they didn't drive out the enemy, the enemy's gods would become a snare to them. And so we read that the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.
There's two things going on here. Who we pretend we are, and who we really are. Israel pretended to be an honorable people, who would obey God, but they turned out to be a dishonorable people who went after false Gods. In our Gospel parable, we have ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the Lord's return. Half of these bridesmaids are pretending to be something they are not. They don't really believe in the Lord's return, because they haven't prepared. They haven't enough oil. Their actions—not being prepared for the bridegroom's return—show their true character. We see who they really are.
This whole chapter, chapter 25 of Matthew is connected. We next have the parable of the talents, where one slave has pretended to be someone he is not. He squandered and hid his talent instead of investing it, and when the master returns, the slave has nothing to show. His actions show his character. He does not believe in what the master believes in. He is not doing the father's will.
What is oil for the lamp? What is a talent? What does it mean to do the father's will? As one of Good Shepherd's core values states, what does it mean to surrender to God's will? What do we, as Christians, say we are going to do and DON'T do every day? Jesus answers that at the end of chapter 25. “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
We speak compassion, but we are not compassionate. We speak justice, but we are not just. We speak love, but we are not loving. It is impossible for us to be that way. We are human, and we are fallen. We choose evil over good. But, as Paul says, it is not me but Christ in me what does the good deed. As John the Baptist says, “I must grow smaller and Christ grow bigger.” When we allow Jesus Christ to take over our lives, and we put him in the driver's seat, the poor get fed, the sick get tended, the strangers get welcomed. If it were up to us, no. But as we sacrifice ourselves, our identities, those things that the world says are so important to us, and we give ourselves over to Christ, we find that we gain a REAL identity, one that is much more valuable than the one we were working at before. This identity is in God, and it is a far more powerful identity.
It's not a coincidence that after Jesus said these things about letting our actions speak louder than our words, about surrendering to God's will and serving the community, that the plot to kill Jesus began. When we surrender to God's will and begin to serve the community, by having enough oil and investing our one talent, the devil's plot to kill us will begin. It already has begun. Let us pray that Jesus will drive us into being faithful to the one true God, into being prepared with enough oil for the bridegroom, with wisely investing our talent, and serving the least of these.