Matthew 25 consists of three distinct stories about preparation for the second coming of Jesus. What appears to be three separate lessons, each with their own points to make, actually build a single portrait of the kind of people who will be prepared for Christ’s second coming. That is what we will look at in this week’s study lesson.
Reading Assignment: Matthew 25
Parable of the 10 Virgins – Matthew 25:1 – 13
Jewish weddings were held in the evening. The bride waited in her home, with her bridesmaids and the groom walked from his house to the bride’s house to pick her up for the wedding. The groom picked up his friends along the way, making a grand procession of the party to eventually collect his bride. In the meantime the bride waited with her maids. They all had oil lamps with them to light their way down the dark streets to the wedding feast.
If the bridegroom took longer than expected – if he tarried – the lamps of the bridesmaids might run out of oil. They were small lamps, and could only hold so much oil at a time. So it was important that they kept their lamps full so when the groom showed up they would have enough to get into the wedding feast. The traditional lamp was built in such a way that oil could be poured in, but was not designed to be poured out, only used up. This is why the five wise maids could not share their oil.
In this parable the 10 maids were divided. Five of them were wise and made sure they were well prepared for the coming of the groom, no matter when he came. The five foolish maids let what oil they had waste away so when the groom came they found they did not have enough oil to personally get them to the wedding feast. By the time the groom came their time to make preparations for his coming was past, and by the time they had refilled their lamps the feast had already begun and the door was locked against any additional guests.
The oil represents multiple things. It represents our testimonies, the amount of personal spirituality in our lives, the amount of service we include in our lives, and so forth. These are all things required for us to be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, the Savior. The Church is the His bride, and each of the members of the Church are the bridesmaids, those waiting for the coming of the Savior.
The goal of this cautionary tale is to warn us that idling away our time in mortality while we await the coming of the Lord is a dangerous pursuit. We truly do not know when He will come, and to gamble on the bet that we have time to play and not take His second coming seriously is to gamble on our salvation. That is a huge personal risk to our souls.
Parable of the Talents – Matthew 25:14 – 30
The master of the house called his servants in and gave them talents, sums of money. He was going on a long trip and wanted each servant to take what he gave them and improve on it. He gave each servant a gift of money based on the capabilities of that servant. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another he gave one talent. Based on current prices, one talent is worth roughly $660,000.00 USD. These gifts were no pittance, they were worth a lot! Even the servant who only got one talent was given much.
When the master returned and required a settlement of what had been done with his money, the first two servants had doubled what he had given them by investing the money wisely. The third servant however, was not wise. Fearing his master’s strict ways, he had decided that it would be better to hide the money in the earth rather than risk the chance of losing any part of it. He returned the original talent to his Lord untouched. He received a resounding rebuke by his master for being wicked and slothful and wasting such an opportunity.
When we think of talents we generally think of singing, dancing, woodcarving, or some other demonstrable ability that we have to go and take lessons to become good at. Those of us who don’t have those types of talents often feel very much like the third servant who has precious little to commend them to their Lord, so the temptation is to take what little we feel we have and hide it away so we can’t say that we wasted what little we were given. Bad choice.
This is our biggest mistake, for we misunderstand what these talents are, and what the Lord expects from us as His servants. First of all, our Father in Heaven didn’t go anywhere. In the true scenario we were the ones who went away, to earth. He gave each and every one of us talents – abilities, that He expects us to improve upon while we are gone. At some point we are going to be required to give an accounting for how we have treated the talents He has given us.
The second point is the value of the talents. Remember how much in dollars a single talent is worth? This only shows that the Lord does not discount even the smallest of talents. They are all of great personal value and are even more valuable to us to whom they have been given. The purpose of giving us talents, abilities, is to bless our lives. The Lord already possesses all talents, He doesn’t need the abilities He has given to us, but we do. The reason He wants us to improve what He has given to us is because He knows how much our lives and the lives of those around us will be blessed when we magnify our abilities.
It is only when we refuse the generous gifts He has given us and figuratively speaking, bury them in the earth, that He becomes upset. For it is we who have wasted what was most uniquely ours. We have hurt not only ourselves by denying ourselves the improvement and joy that comes from that improvement, but we have robbed those around us of the enjoyment they would have received from our abilities. Let me demonstrate.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said:
“Let me mention a few gifts that are not always evident or noteworthy but that are very important. Among these may be your gifts—gifts not so evident but nevertheless real and valuable.
“Let us review some of these less-conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 23; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 20).
Notice that not one of these gifts will land you a starring position on Dancing With the Stars or American Idol (or any other Idol for that matter). Each of the gifts Elder Ashton mentions are deeply personal, and things we tend to discount as unimportant in the face of those who have great visible talents, like singing, or acting, or sculpting, and so forth.
Remember that every talent is equally valuable. In the parable the master did not count the talents given to the first servant any more valuable than the one given to the third servant. It was what was done with the talent(s) given that is all that mattered. Look at Elder Ashton’s list. How valuable is it to know someone who has the ability to ponder deeply? How can this gift bless the lives of those who come in contact with such a person? How valuable is it to be able to offer a heartfelt and meaningful prayer? There are times in our lives when we would pay dearly to be able to offer such prayers, especially when our need is deeply felt.
All of these “discounted” abilities are extremely valuable, and can be used to bless the lives of others. Our sin, like the slothful servant, is to discount what we have been given because it doesn’t look as important as someone else’s abilities. The Lord does not judge us on number of abilities given, only on what we do with what we have been personally entrusted.
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – Matthew 25:31 – 46
In these verses the Good Shepherd (the Lord) will come again and separate all the people of the earth into two main categories labeled as sheep and goats. The sheep are those who showed compassion to their fellow men, while the goats are those who selfishly withheld compassion from their fellow men. The Lord makes it very clear in these verses that to treat our brothers and sisters in the family of God either well or badly, is to treat the Savior the same way. The blessing or punishment for our treatment of those around us will, in large measure determine the kind of treatment we receive from the Lord at judgment.
Both sheep and goats hold special meaning in Jewish culture. The sheep are identified as those whom the Father has given to the Savior. These are His servants, those who obey Him and keep His commandments. The goat is used in the Mosaic law as the carrier of the sins of the people. It is from the Law of Moses we get the term scapegoat. The sins of the people were symbolically placed onto the goat then the goat was driven into the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.
The theme of these three parables is all about how we are to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Like the 10 virgins of the Bridegroom parable, are we performing service, seeking the Spirit, and being obedient to the commandments so we have the personal reserves to last until the Lord can call each of us into the wedding feast of His second coming?
Are we making use of the tools we have been given to improve our time on earth? Do we seek to bless the lives of others with the gifts God gave us when we came here? Are we actively seeking for other gifts we may have, but haven’t discovered yet? I was 55 years old when I discovered I could write. Will I ever write the great American novel? No. But I am trying to do my best to put my “little” talent to the best possible use by writing these study lessons. Like any talent, I have no idea what good may ever come from what I do, but I feel obligated to do my best to please the Lord.
When we are asked to volunteer for service projects, do we spend more time trying to justify why we can’t do it than we do trying to figure out how we can do it? Are we seeking to be a blessing in the lives of those around us, or are we seeking instead, for ways to be left alone so we can do what we want and not be bothered with the inconvenience of service to others? Where is our heart? Are we acting like a sheep or a goat?
All three of these parables hold up to us a looking glass. They require us to look at ourselves and justify our behavior. The Lord will require it of us at some point in the future. It is better that we do it to ourselves and make the needed corrective action now, while we still have time to improve ourselves in mortality. He has shown us in these parables what He values most, service, kindness, and loving our fellow men, like we love the Lord. He spells out the requirements for His blessings, and the resulting punishments for neglect of our duties for His blessings given. What will you decide to do differently this week to change the outcome of when the Lord comes again to inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you?