Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel should be read together. They comprise one teaching of Jesus, and he packed a lot into it. If you remember, this teaching was prompted by his disciples asking him the time and the sign that would mark his coming (24:3).
Jesus wants his followers to endure to the end – to remain faithful and diligent in all he has called them to do and to be. He wants his followers to be “faithful and wise servants,” giving food at the appropriate time to the household (24:45). I suppose this means we are to love one another and encourage one another and to be mindful of the needs of the church – and to live like our master lived, giving freely of ourselves to others.
We shouldn’t be like a “wicked servant” who gets harsh with others and lax in our responsibilities (24:48-49).
Jesus reeled off three parables in a row, starting at Matthew 24:45. I’m pretty sure the second two parables – of the ten virgins and the servants who were given the talents – are some sort of commentary on Jesus’ first parable of the wise and wicked servants. The transition statements at the start of the latter two parables seem to indicate Jesus was building those parables on top of the first one (25:1, 14).
In all three of the parables, there are contrasts – 1) faithful/wise v. wicked; 2) wise v. foolish; 3) good/faithful v. wicked/slothful. Read those three parables again to get your bearings. In each of the parables, people were waiting, and there was some sort of delay – or the return of the one for whom they were waiting was perhaps longer than expected.
And so Jesus is telling us what we ought to do as we wait. Be faithful to what he’s called us to do. Don’t get distracted by the world. Be wise in staying ready. Live life understanding that it’s a gift, and we shouldn’t fear losing the gift.
There’s a lot of stuff here to ponder. We are waiting for the return of our master – for the bridegroom. We have a responsibility to wait well.
As I prayed through these passages, the parable of the 10 virgins stood out to me. The image of the virgins waiting in the dark, getting drowsy in waiting for the delayed bridegroom, was vivid. It captured my imagination.
I could picture the excitement of getting their lamps ready and running outside, where they encountered the bridegroom in the darkness, his face lit by the light of their lamps. And there was joy there. The celebration could start. No one asked him why he was late. They simply were ready to feast. It was midnight. They must have been hungry!
For me, the bridegroom was the center of that parable. It all was about him. The ladies were waiting for him. They wanted to be ready for him – at least the “wise” ones did. And the wait was worth it.
The fact there were 10 virgins waiting probably points to the idea of community. They weren’t doing this alone, although each was free to make her choice. They could choose to be ready.
As a church, are we ready to welcome Christ? Is he the center of our attention? Are we prepared to light the way for him – to put him in the spotlight?