Although there is a chapter division between Matthew 24 and 25, in reality it is one discourse. The theme of “readiness” is very apparent, as these words of Jesus are tied together around the idea of living ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Chapter 25 is very straight-forward in structure, Jesus gives 2 parables (the 10 virgins and the parable of the talents) and one last teaching on the final judgment.
The parable of the 10 virgins is clearly centered on the theme of readiness. The lesson to be learned is one of faithfulness and staying alert, always living ready for Christ to return. The parable of the talents goes into even further detail about what it means to “live ready” for the end. Living ready is not a passive waiting, but an active practice of personal stewardship with the gifts and responsibilities we’ve been entrusted with from the master.
A “talent” was a great sum of money, and although some have preached this passage using the word “talent” (literally—a sum of money) to refer to “talents” (natural abilities or qualities) that we have been given, that’s not a great translation of this word. This master entrusted all 3 servants with a sum of money and the responsibility to invest wisely. The first two took the money, invested, worked hard, and were faithful in the master’s absence. The third servant was motivated by fear (v. 25: “so I was afraid”), and that fear paralyzed him and caused him to act in wickedness and laziness (v. 26). He faces judgment from the master, similar to the judgment faced by all those who did not live faithfully “ready” in the previous parables and teachings of this discourse.
While there are many lessons we could take from this parable, I think the thing that stands out to me initially is the fact that we’ve all been entrusted with some level of resource from God. We can be motivated by fear, and if we are, we’ll bury that resource in the ground and wait for the end to come. Or we can work hard, stay diligent, and live faithfully, and be rewarded accordingly in the end.
How does this look?
I think the section that makes up verses 31-46 gives us a clue. Jesus is talking about the final judgment, and I believe He is giving specific direction at the end of this “live ready” discourse. He focuses in on “the least of these,” and the calling that we all have to reach out to them. There are 5 descriptions that Jesus gives about “the least of these:” they are “hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, and in prison.” While it is obvious that these descriptions can and do apply to those who are homeless, suffering, unemployed, and in prison, I believe these descriptions clearly go beyond simply economic status or social station. While we are clearly called here to reach those who have these physical needs, we are also called to reach those in these situations spiritually. This includes those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, and in prison, separated from God and His church. The calling of the faithful is one that focuses their time, talents, and treasure on “the least of these.”
Lesson: by definition, if you are focused on others, you’re focus is not on yourself. Ask yourself this day, this week, this year: “How can I get my eyes off myself and on others?” The answer to that question is the secret to living faithful and ready for the call of the Master.