Jesus and His disciples sat together on the Mount of Olives. After several years of hearing about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus was giving them insight into the glorious things that lay ahead for the future of humanity. He was also giving them grave warnings for those who do make the purposes of the Most High God a high priority in their lives. He did this by telling two parables.
The first parable was a tale of ten virgins at a wedding. According to Jewish custom, young unmarried girls were an important part of the wedding ceremony. In their tradition, the wedding ceremony took place at the bride’s house, and it often happened at night. The groom and his friends would join together at the groom’s house and celebrate as they made their way to the home of the bride. It was the job of the young virgins to go out and welcome the bridegroom as he came with his procession. After the wedding ceremony, the whole party would go back to the groom’s house for a great feast.
These are important things to know in order to understand the story Jesus was about to tell His disciples:
“‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [That means they poured oil into them so they would continue to burn.] And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”
Wow. In some ways, this story seems kind of harsh. Those poor young girls, left out of the great feast because of their forgetfulness. Yet when we think about what choices they had made leading up to this sad outcome, we see how serious their mistake was. When a person places a high value on something, they think about it. If it is an event, they might put hours into preparation, carefully considering what they will wear and how they wish to present themselves through their behavior. For an event like a wedding, the amount of value put on the event is an indicator of the value that is placed on the couple getting married.
The choice of the five virgins who carefully brought extra oil shows they had thought ahead. They had planned in case the groom was late in coming and invested their money to have extra oil on hand. By comparison, the five virgins who brought no extra oil were showing the lack of importance of this moment to them. They wanted to receive the honor of participating without giving the honor due to those who had invited them.
In the Bible, the Lord Jesus is often described as the bridegroom who will come to take His Bride up to eternal life. This “Bride” is a metaphor for the Church, or all those who genuinely put their faith in Him. In this story, the ten virgins are like the people of our time, the ones who are waiting for the Bridegroom to come. If we are wise, we will be like the virgins who planned ahead to make sure they would be ready. We will choose to place tremendous value on that great moment when the Bridegroom finally comes to take us home. We will live our lives as those who are in waiting, using our lives as a time to prepare for His return.
The Lord went on with another parable. It has many of the same ideas:
“‘For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded them, and he made talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents, here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered not seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
This story offers a great hope and a sharp rebuke. Each one of Jesus’ disciples throughout time has been given gifts that are meant to be used for the Kingdom of Heaven. How will we use them? If we use what we have faithfully, whether we have been given an abundance of gifts like the man with five talents, or less like the man with two talents, the Lord will be greatly pleased, and we will be called good and faithful servants. But for those who squander their time and do nothing with the gifts God gives them, it will be as if they did not know Jesus at all. They will be cast out with the nonbelievers as if they never knew Him. In truth, if someone chooses to believe that God is a harsh Master that takes more than He gives, then that person truly has not known Him or put his or her faith in Him.
Consider the epic promise this parable holds out for those who use their gifts for the Kingdom. They will be welcomed to enter into the joy of the Master. This is no ordinary approval by a human boss…this is the exuberant, unending, perfect joy of the Most High God. Imagine what it must mean to enter into that joy!
Consider the epic warning this story offers for those who fail to use their gifts for God’s Kingdom. Their resentment of God and their accusations against Him will seal their fate. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is the way Jesus described Hell.
This stark contrast is not meant to drive us to despair, but to give us a dramatic comparison that makes our choice clear. In this confused and convoluted world, it is often challenging to realize the inner workings of our own heart. What is our attitude towards God? Do we give to Him wholeheartedly, striving to advance His Kingdom with the gifts He gives? Do we use them only to get what we want for ourselves? Do we see His gifts and treasures as burdens? Are our hearts full of gratefulness and trust in the goodness of the Master…or are they tightened up into bitter, toxic little wads, assuming the worst about His intentions towards us? Jesus is making it clear that the choice is ours…we can move into a life of gratitude and service, or into resentful bitterness.
Many of us have allowed our hearts to become hardened and angry. Often this is because of pain and disappointment we have experienced in life. We need to know that our attitude is a choice. We can live in the misery of toxic negativity, or we can make the agonizing choice to let go of all that…to forgive those who must be forgiven, to do the hard work of taking our thoughts captive and choosing to trust God with the outcomes of our lives…even in the midst of painful circumstances.
We can see King David, the ancestor of Christ, doing just that in Psalm 31. One way to turn our hearts to faith is to pray through these Psalms, asking the Lord to make the words true of our own hearts:
“In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed;
In Your righteousness deliver me…
“For You are my rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul…
“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
My eye has wasted away from grief,
My soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed me because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away.
Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach…
“I am like a broken vessel…
“But as for me, I trust in You, LORD,
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies
And from those who persecute me;
Make Your face shine upon Your servant;
Save me in Your lovingkindness.”
Psalm 31:1, 3, 7, 9-11a, 12b, 14-16