A short commentary tonight, which I’ll try to update later this week.
Matthew 25 is part and parcel of Matthew 24, with two parables further illustrating Jesus’ eschatological themes. (Remember that our biblical chapter and verse divisions are medieval and somewhat artificial, not part of the original text. See here. The oldest divisions in the text are marked in the KJV by the ❡ or paragraph marker.)
The two well-known parables are 1) The Ten Virigins (or Ten Bridesmaids) and 2) The Parable of the Talents
The Ten Bridesmaids
It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here without some cultural background telling us what was normal, what the expectations were, and how they are thus being either violated.
“We know little about marriage ceremonies in Palestine during Jesus’s time. As with other Palestinian Jewish customs, most of what we say about such things is really a description of customs 200 years or so later. Perhaps those later customs reflect what happened in Jesus’s day. It is likely that there was considerable continuity between the first and the second centuries. But we cannot know what the customs were like, and the tremendous social upheaval resulting from the destruction of the temple in 70 AD could have interrupted the continuity of traditions.”- Faulconer, New Testament Made Harder
This makes it difficult. Note, though, that the 5 who didn’t bring extra oil are indeed able to go purchase what they need (v.10) , then they show up at the groom’s house. They’re just not in the road waiting for him.
“Whom does [this] parable criticize and for what? Be careful that your answers are based on what the scriptures say rather than what you have always heard.” Faulconer, my emphasis.
Parable of the talents
Talent is simply the name of a (very large) sum of money, in modern terms equivalent to several thousand pounds. It is this parable which has given the word a metaphorical meaning in English, as it has been applied to the God-given gifts and abilities which we are responsible for using. This is probably a valid application of the story, but we should not imagine that the Greek word in itself conveys anything more than its literal monetary meaning.
Different amounts (though all very large) were given to each servant, according to his ability, and the return expected was in proportion to the sum entrusted. God recognizes that we are all different and expects of us only what is appropriate. It is significant that the two successful servants receive identical commendations from the master (21, 23), even though the scale of their original responsibility, and therefore of their achievement, is different. But to have a lesser ‘gift’ does not excuse us from appropriate effort. The fault of the third servant was that he did not recognize his master’s intention, and opted for safety instead of service. Hoping to avoid doing anything wrong, he finished up by not doing anything right.- New Bible Commentary
Following these two parables, Jesus talks about coming in glory and making a binary division between those who engaged in charitable behavior and those who did not.
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’…Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
Here, at least, there is nothing about accepting Jesus or being baptized, although other passages obviously do say such things. How we square those is a different question. I’m inclined to think of this the way C.S. Lewis did, in The Last Battle. An honorable prince named Emeth (Heb. for “truth” btw) a Calormene is raised to serve the god Tash, and discomfitted to discover he spent his life serving the “wrong” god. (On picking the wrong religion, see here for humor and here for deep thought, both Mormon related)
For always since I was a boy I have served Tash and my great desire was to know more of him, if it might be, to look upon his face. But the name of Aslan was hateful to me….. [In a death experience, he encounters Aslan, who] was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.
Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome.
But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…. I take to me the services which thou hast done to [Tash]. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
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