The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is a strange story. It’s an interesting story that reminds us all of the agony sometimes involved in waiting on someone to arrive who is notoriously late. The Bridal Party, made up in our story of ten virgins, are waiting to accompany the processional that transports the bride from her house of origin to the groom’s house. The Bridegroom is late in arriving, probably because the family is negotiating over the gifts being given. This is a normal occurrence, yet the foolish virgins don’t come prepared, and run out of oil. While trying to find more oil they miss the processional, and the wedding. The parable is a reminder to always be ready because one never knows when Jesus will return.
It’s an important reminder, one that we often forget or ignore. We all know God could come back at any time, yet we often don’t even consider the reality. How should we live in light of the coming Kingdom?
While the parable, which is located in Matthew 25, can stand on its own, its first line “then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like,” ties it to the previous stories. Matthew 24 is an apocalyptic Dooms-Day message given by Jesus concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. While the disciples are enjoying the scenery, Jesus is clearly thinking of the future, his coming death, and the future world it will bring about, and Jesus goes into a long explanation of an apocalyptic future. It may look nice now, but the Temple will be desecrated, and these buildings will be destroyed. There will be wars and rumors of wars, people will say the Christ is coming now, or the Christ is coming later, but don’t listen. For the Christ will come at a time no one expects. People will be in a field; one will be taken, another left. Just like in the days of Noah, it will come in while no one expects. So be ready and stay awake. The wise servant is not just one who eats and drinks, throwing parties while his Master is away. No the wise servant keeps the house in order knowing that his Master could return at any time.
These are lessons we need to hear. We need reminders that the end of time is coming because we often forget, and grow complacent. Yet in the reminders, we also need the encouragement to know how to live now. How do we live waiting the second coming?
Luckily, the parable is not just tied to the stories that come before it, but the stories that follow as well. The parables that follow the wise and foolish virgins are parables that also focus on judgment, but center the conversation more on how one should live now.
The very next verse begins the parable of the talents. In the parable of the talents, a man goes on a journey and entrusts his property to his servants. I’m going away, he says, and I’m giving you the responsibility to cultivate and pursue my interests here. One is given five talents, one three talents, and the last one talent. The point is not in the size of the talents, but in the fact that the servants have been entrusted to do the work of the Master until the Master’s return. They aren’t just called to sit around and protect or keep safe the little amount that they have been given. They are instead called to act in the master’s place; to be the master’s representative or image bearer in the community and region for the good of the Master.
The parable of the talents is followed by the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this parable it’s judgment day. It has come like a thief in the night, and the Son of Man is now separating the good from the bad; the sheep from the goats. To the sheep, those that will inherit the Kingdom, they are receiving their reward because they have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. They have been doing God’s work in the world. The goats are not invited because they specifically did not do God’s work. They did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the sick. The message becomes clear, the faithful are not just those who are living ethically right lives, going to church and being morally upright. The faithful are instead those who are living upright lives while also living out their faith in service to the least of these. The faithful are engaged in taking care of the poor, the hungry, the hurting, and the weak.
Which means that being ready for judgment day is not just always being ready because you don’t know when God will come back. Being ready for judgment day is about wisely watching now. It’s being about the work of God in loving and serving others. It’s being God’s representative here; being God’s image bearer here in whatever time you have left. It’s realizing that the time for action is now.
Wisely watching and waiting is being ready for the judgment day because it could come at any time, while also continuing to live in the moment, understanding we have a limited time. We need to always be asking the question, how can we wisely represent God and be God’s image bearer today? After asking the question and discerning an answer, we live it out for the glory of God.