WE think of the Lord still sitting with the disciples on the Mount of Olives, in the deepening twilight, as we read three other parables about His coming. We shall take the lesson of the parables to ourselves, for the Lord will surely come to each one of us to call us to the other world. We do not know when He will come, but the parables teach us how we must live to be always ready.
One parable told of the ten virgins waiting for the bride groom as he brought the bride from her home to his, where the wedding feast was spread. Such wedding processions are often seen in Eastern towns. As we read the parable, we see that the wedding feast means heaven. The virgins who have oil are people who have in their lives the oil of real love for the Lord and one another. The empty lamps are the mere forms of goodness and worship, with no love in them. This is the parable.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.: And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.—Matthew XXV. 1-13.
The next parable was about talents which a man gave to his servants to use. As you read it, you will see some things in which it is like the parable of the pounds, which we have read, and some in which it is different. The “talent” was a large sum of money, probably more than a thousand dollars. It is from this parable that “talent” has come to mean ability of any kind.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.— Matthew XXV. 14-30.
The last parable is about a shepherd and his sheep and goats. You know how the shepherd in Palestine leads his flock where there is green pasture and water to drink, and keeps them safe at night. Often sheep and goats follow the same shepherd, the sheep feeding in the softer green of the valley, and the black goats among the rocks of the hill-side. At night perhaps the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and gives them each their place in the fold.
The Lord is our Shepherd who leads us all, and feeds and protects us. When the day of earthly life is over, He calls us to our eternal home. But not all are ready for the same home. The sheep in the parable are those who have done good, kind deeds for the Lord’s sake. The goats are those who have known what was good, but have not done it except for show. They cannot live in heaven, for to be useful from love to the Lord and one another is heaven.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.—Matthew XXV. 31-46.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
The parables of the oil, of the talents, and of the sheep and goats >> Each relates particularly to one element of character: Oil is the type of love, the silver talent is the type of knowledge, and the story of the sheep and goats relates to works, and shows the difference between works that prepare for heaven and those that do not
Virgins >> Those who love truth and desire to live from the Lord
Ten virgins >> Those who are really in this desire and also those who only appear to be in it
The oil >> The love of the Lord and goodness
The lamps and vessels >> The outward forms of faith and life which should contain and express the love
The sleeping of all >> The dullness of our spiritual faculties in this life
The inability to borrow oil or to buy it in time to enter with the bridegroom >> The impossibility after death of gaining a heavenly love if we have not gained it in life in this world
The closing of the door and the refusal of the bridegroom >> No unwillingness of the Lord to give the joys of heaven, but the impossibility of enjoying heaven if the love of heaven is not in the heart
The traveling of the man into a far country >> The Lord’s seeming remoteness, in order that we may be free in serving Him
The silver committed to each one >> The spiritual knowledge which the Lord gives to each one of us to use
The five talents >> Knowledge received in an innocent, childlike way
Two talents >> Knowledge received in a more intellectual, youthful way
Each sum was doubled >> The adding to each knowledge its appropriate goodness as it is faithfully used
The one talent >> Knowledge which remains alone or is not used and is not joined with goodness
The words to the servant with one talent >> We ought to use the knowledge that is given us, even if it seems a hard duty, blessings will follow
The giving of the one talent to him who had ten >> Even from a bad person one may learn a truth and put it to good use
Nations are gathered for judgment >> Men are judged by their types of human affection
Sheep >> Tender, loving innocence
Goats >> Innocence of a more intellectual kind (mere knowledge of good life without genuine goodness)
The right hand >> The power of love in actions
The left hand >> Thought without love
Works of charity >> Works of spiritual charity, of ministry to men’s souls
The hungry and thirsty >> Those who desire goodness and truth
The stranger or sojourner >> One who is willing to be instructed
The naked >> Those who know that they have nothing of goodness and truth
The sick and in prison >> Those who feel that they are in evil and falsity
The righteous into life eternal >> The good are called to the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The Lord’s purpose for them is realized
These shall go away into everlasting punishment >> The evil also have their place, and the Lord’s care attends them, but it is not the fulfillment of His purpose
Not mere knowledge or profession should then avail; men should be known as the Lord’s disciples solely by their love for one another.
It was of necessity that He should appear to go into a far country; for the race was just entering upon its young manhood, and must choose its course in freedom. He would entrust to them the abundant experience of Christian love which His Spirit would store up in them, represented by five talents ; the charity that should come later, in the early days of doctrinal discussion; and the truth of life that they still might live if they would when these failed. Wherever love and charity and use were chosen as the things to be sought and cherished, the happy things of heaven would be multiplied in the church, and men would be fitted for a joyful expansion of life from the Spirit of the Lord. But knowledge alone, unless men by using it gathered intelligence and love of use, was a barren thing, which they who did not live it would themselves care nothing for. (AC 5291; AE, 193.)
And last of these direct predictions of the Christian Church is the parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats. The sheep are they who would cultivate charity and love ; of them the Lord would form His Christian heaven. The goats are they who would care only for knowledge ; they could serve only as warnings.
These two chapters thus briefly indicate the whole history of the first Christian Church. It is also the history of the first Christian experience in those who later come to see how the love of self appropriates that experience to its own pride and assurance, and how the pride of intelligence cares for nothing but the knowledge of Christian truth, with no regard to use. It is inevitable that there should be such manifestations, at least of the tendencies of the self, before the developing man sees reason for the deeper exploration and judgment, which are necessary to the removal of the self from the inmost consciousness, and the surrender there to the love of the Lord.
These things were fulfilled in the Lord’s own Human at the time He was speaking, though they were not to be fulfilled in the church for ages to come. There was no tendency to evil and misappropriation in His inherited human which He did not thoroughly explore and reject. There was no depth of the humiliation of the self which He did not attain. There was no conceivable opening of the human heart to the Divine love which was not effected in Him, even to the absolute union of the Divine and the Human. From His own experience of the human tendencies and possibilities in Himself, He foresaw and foretold what was coming to the church. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew’s Gospel.)
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum