Bridesmaids (or talents)
- Main Text: Matthew 25:1-13 or 14-30
- Accompanying text: Psalm 43:3-4
What this passage means to us
There’s a difference between waiting in faith while doing something and waiting in faith while doing nothing. This message is evident throughout Matthew 25, which must be seen as a continuation of Christ’s often-public debates with the Pharisees and his discussions with the disciples. “Matthew continues the section with a series of parables focussing on being ready for the King when he gets back. In every parable there is the phrase ‘he was a long time coming’, emphasizing the need for faithfulness in the face of considerable delay…Jesus looks for a continuing trust in him and his Word…for doing as well as believing. It is made quite clear the order is important: you believe first, but you believe in order to do” .
The Pharisees and other religious leaders saw the Kingdom in terms of something in the future whereas Jesus taught that the Kingdom was both now and in the future. “To the Jews the Kingdom is wholly future — it is something that has not yet come and therefore they call it ‘the age to come’…The difference in the Christian hope for the future is this: Christians believe that the Messiah has already come, but also that he is due to come again…The Kingdom is both now and not yet…Not yet established, it can still, however, be entered now” . Therefore, if the Kingdom is now, we live it now and in faith await its ultimate realization. In his writing, Matthew has stressed constantly that Christ the King’s authority is now, not reserved just for the future. With the Spirit’s help we put Christ’s teachings into practice now, and thus “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is set “at that time” (Matthew 25:1), referring to the preceding verse in Matthew 24:50, “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of”, which informs us that there’s no point in second-guessing the timing of Christ’s return. Paul reminds us, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). Instead of waiting passively for the Second Coming, Christians should be active in embracing the gift of faith, leading a holy life, and in using their God-given talents, not burying them in “a hole in the ground” (Matthew 25:18).
It should be noted that the foolish virgins were ready for the Bridegroom to arrive at the expected time. Typically, it would have been a morning reception, and had the bridegroom not delayed his coming, the light in their lamps would not have been a problem. Had they got up early before dawn and used their lamps to lead them to the house along with the wise virgins? The problem was that, in faith, the foolish virgins had prepared for the immediate, but not for the unexpected. Towards the end of the day they were so busy trying to sort out this oversight for themselves that they missed the Bridegroom’s arrival and “the door was shut” (Matthew 25:10). The wise virgins had taken more oil with them to re-fill their lamps just in case something happened whereby they would have had to walk back home at night. Faith involves being prepared for the unexpected, which, in this instance, was the delay in the Bridegroom’s arrival. Sometimes God does not turn up for us according to our desired or anticipated timing in the way we want him to. A prayer is not answered as we’d like it to be, healing is delayed until the Kingdom, suffering interferes with our Christian walk, bad things happen to good people – but, with the Spirit’s producing the patience of faith within us, “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). And, our having stood firm in the faith to the end and our having put into practice the loving commands of Jesus the King, he will say to us, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). Again, we live the Kingdom now, and we can have the confidence of knowing “that he who began a good work in you (us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Context and Story-line
“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified’” (Matthew 26:1-2). The sayings had begun in the temple setting just after Christ silenced the Pharisees in front of the crowds that had assembled for the spring festival season. The Pharisees “interpreted the Torah in light of ancestral custom as observed in practice”, and what distinguished them from the other religious leaders was “their presentation of themselves as accurate interpreters of the law” . It was their interpretation that Jesus challenged so openly, and, in Matthew 23:23, Jesus accuses them of neglecting “the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” and of being unclean inside. From the temple Jesus proceeds to the Mount of Olives, where his disciples ask him about the signs of the end times. In responding to them Jesus explains that, irrespective of what might happen on the world scene, when it comes to the return of the Son of Man, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). What matters, Jesus continues, is to be like a servant who feeds the master’s household, and who is found “doing so” when the Messiah comes (Matthew 24:46). To illustrate these points more, Jesus teaches the parables of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Virgins) and of the Talents, after which he expounds how the Judgment occurs when the “Son of Man comes in his glory” (Matthew 25:31). “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people’” (Matthew 26:3-5).
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:11
- Revelation 19:7-9
- Luke 12:35-40
Other GCI resources
- https://equipper.gci.org/2017/10/sermon-for-november-19-2017 (Parable of the Talents)
Footnotes and references
- David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible (UK: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015).819, 820.
- Ibid. 814, 815.
- Martin Goodman, A History of Judaism (UK: Penguin Random House, 2019). 164, 116.