This lesson in our current manual discusses three parables that appear in Matthew 25, from the Sermon on the Mount of Olives. There is no attempt to link the parables in any way – they are presented as three distinct stories, and might as well have been the basis for three separate lessons. The 1935 lesson presented here, from Obert C. Tanner’s The New Testament Speaks. Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935, attempts to relate the parables to each other, and suggests some questions that may help today’s teacher do better than the “reading comprehension” questions that dominate the current manual.
Parables Given in the Discourse on the Mount of Olives
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. (Matt. 25:1-13.)
The Master had not yet finished his teachings to the disciples, concerning the coming of the Kingdom. He followed his prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem with three parables. The first of these parables stresses the need for continued preparation. And how?
The story of the Ten Virgins is one of the most dramatic of the parables. “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.” The foolish lacked foresight. their preparation was a superficial and hollow one. They had prepared as some had builded – upon the sand. They had tended to the outward things that would allow them to attend the feast. Their pretensions were good, but theirs was an outward effort rather than an inward preparation.
the bridegroom did not come as the virgins expected; his coming was delayed, then “they all slumbered and slept.” to this point in the parable there is little outward difference between the wise and foolish virgins. But the emergency in their lives occurs. “At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him.” The opportunity was upon them. Only momentary preparations could be made. “Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.” Nothing more could be done, they must go if they were to attend this wedding. Through carelessness and perhaps laziness, the foolish virgins were unable to cope with the needs of the privilege granted them. They began to be desperate.
In a last effort they tried to rectify their carelessness and foolishness by the easy way, for they said to the wise virgins: “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”: It may appear that the wise virgins showed signs of selfishness, but measured in terms of life, their reply was one of fundamental truth. The wisdom and preparedness of the wise cannot be bought by those whose inner resources, carelessness and laziness, have caused them to be unprepared. They are not “for sale,” neither can they be given as a gift. The inner resources of life can come only through individual growth and effort.
The foolish virgins must be prepared, they must go get the oil, but lo, while they were gone the marriage was held. “The door was shut.” that marriage feast, as far as the foolish virgins were concerned, was passed. Opportunity turns back to no one.
”Child, follow me,” the Master said,
As he knocked full loud at my chamber door:
But the morn was fair, and my heart was gay;
“I’ll dally a while on the primrose way,
And I’ll come,” said I, “when the morning’s o’er.”
“Child, follow me,” the Master said,
As he lingered patiently at the gate;
Gray shadows were falling, the night was near;
“Life’s joys are so sweet, and my friends so dear,
I will come,” said I, “when the night is late.”
“Child follow me,” the Master cried,
As he walked away through the darkness deep;
And the night had fallen, and the birds were still;
“Linger,” said I, “at the foot of the hill,
And I’ll come when the world is hushed in sleep.”
“Master, I come,” I cried at length,
“Heart weary to serve at thine own dear side.
Thou hast called me long, but I come at last.”
but mine eyes were dim and my strength was past,
And I could not follow the Crucified.
But just as one opportunity never returns the second time, others are surely coming. “Watch thereof.” Opportunities are fleeting as life itself. They are like the coming of the Lord and his Kingdom. This great truth for mankind in every age is given: “You must be on the watch, for you do not know either the day or the hour.”
The Parables of the Talents and the Pounds. (Read from the Bible: Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-28.)
The two parables, the Pounds and the Talents, parallel each other in so many ways, that they are both considered in this one discussion –t he reference in Matthew being followed in more detail in this discussion. The lesson taught in each parable is identical, namely, accept your talents, abilities, and capacities as a sacred trust, to be honorably kept and improved upon.
Three servants were entrusted with different amounts – one five talents, another two, and the third received but one talent.
It is to be noticed that the man recognized the abilities of his servants. As Buttrick says, this statement concerning the servants’ abilities is “a cle3ar and sober statement of the inequality of human endowment.”
The two men who were given the five and two talents, through effort and wise planning, doubled the amount that had been given them. The third lacked the courage to increase his talent, but rather went “and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.”
The Lord returned, and had a settlement with his three servants to whom he had entrusted his money. In the master’s approval of these men, we get a great truth, namely, it is not so important what an individual’s endowments are; the real achievement is to be determined by the devotedness and efficiency with which each individual seeks to improve those endowments. The one that had received five talents was able to say: Lord, “behold, I have gained besides them five talents more.” The one who received two talents upon his master’s leaving, was able to say: “Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents besides them.” Both received an enthusiastic and earnest “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” This system of measurements was established by the Master. It was at work when he and his disciples observed the widow paying her mite at the temple treasury. It matters not what the amount may be, but the honesty and faithfulness with which it is handled is the important thing.
Contrast the great difference in the talents of David Livingstone and his Zanzibar servant. At the burial of Livingstone at Westminster Abbey, this humble servant, with only one talent of possibilities, who brought the body of a five-talent man from the African swamp, stood at the head of the coffin of his beloved friend while hundreds passed by. What a contrast in abilities, yet in courage and faithfulness how alike! Both true to the light that they had, both to be rewarded by the Master’s true scale of justice – their faithfulness.
The stress of the parable is placed upon the man who received only one talent. Perhaps the parable was given for men of this type in all ages. How many are like him in this day! It cannot be said that he was a bad man, nor one who tended to be wasteful. He realized that in taking the talent he had assumed a responsibility, else he would have spent the money. His failure lay in the fact that he did not have the courage nor foresight to improve his master’s gift. His account was: “Sir, I knew you were a hard man … and I was frightened and I went and hid your thousand dollars in the ground. here is your money!” [Goodspeed text.]
He couldn’t sing and he couldn’t play,
He couldn’t speak and he couldn’t pray.
he’d try to read, but break right down,
Then sadly grieve at smile or frown.
While some with talents ten begun,
He started out with only one.
“With this,” he said, “I’ll do my best
And trust the Lord to do the rest.”
His trembling hand and tearful eye
Gave forth a world of sympathy,
When all alone with one distressed,
He whispered words that calmed that breast,
And little children learned to know,
When grieved and troubled, where to go.
He loved the birds, the flowers, the trees,’
And, loving him, his friends loved these.
His homely features lost each trace
Of homeliness, and in his face
There beamed a kind and tender light
That made surrounding features bright.
When illness came he smiled at fears,
And bade his friends to dry their tears;
He said “Good-by,” and all confess
He made of life a grand success.
– John L. Shroy.
there are likely many reasons for not improving the talents or abilities given us by God. We are afraid the task is too hard; that there will be no brilliant success; jealous that someone may do the task better; afraid because of pride; cowardly for fear a mistake will be made. People of this type often feel that the improvement of their one talent is of no great consequence. They forget that faithful hands, whether they be skilled or less skillful, are needed.
“This message comes to those who, while being equipped for activity, yet hide from active service; to the man who has no time to serve on committees; to the business man who will not give the value of his business ability to the church or charity; to the suburbanite who answers every request for service with an irritated, “I moved out here to rest’; to the college graduate who will give no effort to the higher life of the community; to the woman of experience who might be a force in the life of young girls, but who ‘cannot be bothered’; to the man whose answer to appeals for concrete service in the church is ‘I have no talent for that sort of thing’; to the large and inglorious company of shirkers whom no man can number. How much Jesus’ work in his life time was retarded by such merely negative goodness! How much the Kingdom is held back today by it! Think of the man who is an abstainer from liquor, but who will do nothing to fight the liquor traffic; who is pure in his own home life, but will not exert himself to clean up conditions which have an immoral influence in the town; who is himself a Christian believer, but who will not take off his coat and roll up his sleeves in an effort to extend Christianity in his own neighborhood. Are such people any different from the man who dug a hole in the ground and buried his talent there?” [Luccock, Studies in the parables of Jesus, pp. 89-90.] Hardly.
“Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers”: The man failed not for lack of opportunity. The universe is full of opportunity for growth. Neglect of one’s abilities is in time sure to paralyze the soul. “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.” Such is the penalty for disuse and the reward for rightful use. It is a law that works in every sphere of nature.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. (Read from the bible: Matt. 25:31-46.)
This parable, given by the Master while with his disciples upon the Mount of Olives, vividly stresses the conditions by which men are rightly judged: not by mere belief, but by living out the life that is expressive of the Master’s spirit.
Jesus set no limit upon Christian kindness. It is to come naturally from the heart. True kindness not only notices human needs but strives to satisfy them. “For I was an hungered … thirsty … was a stranger … naked … sick … in prison, and ye came unto me.” Needless to say, the kind heart helped to overcome these human ills and needs.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”: It was the Master’s great plea for the brotherhood of mankind. Church, creed, birth, wealth, or learning, of themselves, may be the mask of an unkind soul.
A Minute for Meditation:
I could not remain in the house by the road
And watch as the toilers go on,
Their faces beclouded with pain and with sin,
So burdened, their strength nearly gone.
I’ll go to their side, I’ll speak in good cheer,
I’ll help them to carry their load;
And I’ll smile at the man in the house by the way,
As I walk with the crowd in the road.
Out there in the road that goes by the house,
Where the poet is singing his song,
I’ll walk and I’ll work midst the heat of the day,
And I’ll help falling brothers along –
Too busy to live in the house by the way,
Too happy for such an abode.
And my heart sings its praise to the master of all,
Who is helping me serve in the road.
– Walter J. Gresham.
“There is waiting a work where only your hands can avail:
And so if you falter, a chord in the music will fail.”
–Edwin Markham, “The Day and the Work.”
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Tell the Parable of the Ten Virgins. What lesson does it teach? What is the interpretation of the refusal of the five wise maidens to share their oil with the others?
2. Tell the Parable of the Talents. What is the main truth contained in these two parables?
3. Tell the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. What lesson does it teach?
Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:
1. Judging from Matt. 25:34-409, would you say that faith produces service, or service produces faith? Which comes first in your life?
2. The story is told of a woman who was greatly disturbed by her doubts in religious beliefs. She was given the Gospel of John and a calling list of needy families. From Matt. 25:34-40, what results in her faith would you predict? Why?
3. Can you agree with this statement: “The judgment of God upon us will not be by creed or church questions, but by our human relations?’ Explain your answer.
4. “So if this relentless Lover of our Souls walked through our streets and saw the conditions of poverty, ill health, and misery such as very few of us realize; if he could meet the landlords of some of the holes where poor people dwell; if he could go to our racetracks and see boys and girls recklessly gambling away their wages for an hour’s alleged sport, foolish victims of the lust for money on the part of bookmakers rather than wicked sinners; if he could visit some houses where that lovely thing called innocent womanhood is counted very cheap; if he could walk through some of our mills, factories, mines, offices, slums, markets – yes, even churches – and we could see his face, we should not be reminded of the ‘Gentle Jesus,’ but of the ‘Son of God whose flaming eyes our inmost thoughts perceive.’ ‘to call Jesus “Lord” is orthodoxy, and to call him “Lord, Lord,” is piety, but to call Jesus “Lord, Lord,” and do not the things that he says, is blasphemy.” [Weatherhead, Jesus and Ourselves, pp. 175-176.] In the light of these words, what do you think Jesus would have to say, if he were to visit your community?
5. Illustrate the truth of the Parable of the Talents, that the faculties not invested in active service will soon dwindle and shrink until they are completely lost. Illustrate this truth in the use of the muscles of our bodies and in the use of our minds.
6. Give modern illustrations of the truth which Jesus taught in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.