On being prepared ...

Sally Oakes's picture

“Be prepared.” It’s the motto of both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts. I had a friend in my Brownie Troop (back when we wore beanies and brown dresses with orange neckties) who took this to heart. We were at day camp and one sunny day we were to go on a nature hike. She brought her rain coat and galoshes. The leaders tried to explain to her that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and that we wouldn’t be gone long. She wasn’t hearing it. “But it might rain and we’re supposed to be prepared,” she said.

I try to be prepared. I make sure I have gas in the lawn mowers before I start mowing. I lay out the stuff I’m going to make dinner with and get the busy work done ahead of time. I even scheduled induced labor for my second child so I could have enough recovery time to have to use only one substitute preacher. (The other reason was that we lived 45 minutes from the hospital and I didn’t want to go into labor and have to drive myself.)

However, I’m usually the one caught unprepared. I’ve had to deliver sermons that were less than polished, publish columns that were less than focused, and file taxes with less than enough records. As a student, I had to take exams without enough preparation and as a singer I’ve had to go into a concert still uncertain of a difficult line.

There was one time, however, when providence took over. It was my senior year in seminary and I got sick enough to miss a number of classes one week and to be in the hospital the next week. I moped around for a couple more weeks after that.

Well, I wasn’t so sick as to not be bored in the hospital, so I passed the time marking my Bible with a four-color pen. I was taking a class in parables and I’d outline the parable, make a note like “delay of parousia,” “seed,” or “KoG” (Kingdom of God). I’d also make a note of the parallels in the other gospels and if there was not, I wrote, the circle and slash for “no” as in “no smoking,” and the mathematical symbol for parallel.

The professor in this parables class was from Germany, and gave us an option to take an in-class essay exam or to take a shorter, but more intense oral exam, as he’d been accustomed to giving in Germany.

I have no idea why (later I knew it was providence), but I decided to take the oral exam. We were to take it with a partner and another woman in the class asked me to be her partner and I agreed.

So, we go into the professor’s office the day of the exam and he starts asking us questions, Socratic-style. We fielded them okay.

He’d say, “Look up ...” and then we’d look up the parable and then exegete it on the spot. I actually thought it was kind of fun because in the course of the conversation he asked more and more probing questions and I ended up learning more about a parable than I would have from just thinking about it and spitting it out in an essay.

Then he asks us about a particular parable. “Where do you find ....?”

My partner starts to argue with him, “We don’t have it all memorized ... yadda yadda.”

Fact is, I wasn’t certain, myself, but I remembered “Matthew” so I started flipping pages. I found it and the situation was diffused.

It began with the simple questions, “Where is it located in the context of this particular Gospel?” (delay of parousia) and “Does it have a parallel?” (no).

Well, I’d outlined and noted the parables while I was bored in the hospital, so there it was — color coded and everything!

I had to confess: “Dr. Schmeller, I have to tell you that I used some time in the hospital to outlined these parables and made notes in my Bible. I thought I’d need them when I became a preacher.”

I thought my partner was going to faint. This professor could be affable but could also be stern.

He just shrugged and said, “Well, you were smart enough to have foresight, so I don’t see any problem.”

“Whew!” I hadn’t known that the oral exam would be as it was. It was in the form of anemia and some mono-like virus, but it was one of those times I was prepared.

The parable? Matthew 25:1 - 13, the parable of the 10 bridesmaids (virgins / maidens). Ironic, huh?

A result of our on-the-spot exegesis? The bridegroom could only know those bridesmaids who had made themselves known to him. It can’t be shared because no one can just give a relationship with the bridegroom to another person; s/he has to develop that him — or herself.

How will you prepare, make yourself known before Christ? With unnecessary raincoats, as with my Brownie friend? By trying to control the circumstances, as with my second labor? Instead, store oil in your lamp by studying God’s word, prayer, worship, fasting, and being part of a Christian community. You’ll be surprised at the outcome!

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