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The Ten Viegins. The Talents. The Sheep and the Goats
The whole of this a, which is entirely concerned with the Second Advent, and contains some of the most striking of all Christ’s sayings, is peculiar to St. Matthew.
1-13. Parable of the Ten Virgins. Professing Christians, who alone are addressed here, are warned of the absolute need of sufficient oil, i.e. of sufficient depth and reality in the spiritual life, if they are to be admitted into Christ’s kingdom hereafter. Unless the life of the soul is continually nourished by secret prayer, devout meditation upon God’s Word, and reverent use of the Sacraments, there is extreme danger that the lamp of piety will flicker out, that even the outward show of conformity to Christ’s Law will cease to be, and that death or the Second Advent will find the soul not ready.
1. Then] i.e. in the period immediately before the Second Advent. The kingdom of heaven] i.e. the Church on earth. Unto ten virgins] The ten virgins are not simply Christians, but good Christians; not all the baptised, but those who make some attempt to act up to their Christian profession. The number ten represents the whole number of those who are apparently good Christians. It is chosen because among the Jews it was a complete number. Ten Jews constituted a congregation. Which took their lamps] RM ’torches,’ i.e. their Christian profession. The ’lamps’ are all that is outward in the life of professing Christians, as the oil is all that is inward. To meet the bridegroom] All Christian life is a going out to meet the bridegroom, i.e. a preparation for the second coming of Christ.
In the parable the wedding is supposed to take place at night. The bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, goes in procession to the bride’s house to fetch her home to his. On the return journey the virgins, the friends of the bride, are supposed to join the procession, and to enter with her into the bridegroom’s house, where, in accordance with Jewish custom, the wedding feast was held. The customs of the Jews with regard to weddings differed little from those of the Greeks and Romans, or of modern Oriental nations, who invariably celebrate weddings at night. The marriage of Christ with His Church is represented in the parable as taking place in the world to come, the betrothal having taken place in this world.
2. And five of them were wise and five were foolish] The foolish virgins are not identical with the wicked, or the hypocrites. There is nothing insincere about them, they are only foolish and shallow. They have some oil, that is, some genuine religion, but not enough. They are like those in the parable of the sower who have no depth of earth. They endure for a time, but cannot carry through what they have begun. Their stock of perseverance and patience is soon exhausted, and their lamps go out.
3. Took no oil with them] Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and of inward sanctification (Acts 10:38; Hebrews 1:9; 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27). Here it stands for all that is earnest and sincere in the Christian life: secret prayer, faith, humility, charity, and good works.
4. Oil in their vessels] The foolish virgins took some oil, but not enough. The wise virgins took an extra supply, in case the bridegroom delayed his coming.
5. Tarried] A hint (but it is no more) that Christ would not come as soon as the first Christians expected. Slumbered and slept] If a definite meaning is to be given to this detail it represents the repose of faith, the serene confidence in God, which those who have found Christ, and have ordered their lives after His word, have a right to feel. The confidence of the foolish virgins, however, was misplaced.
6. At midnight] i.e. the time of the Second Advent and the resurrection of the dead.
8. Are gone out] RV ’are going out.’
9. Not so lest] RV ’Peradventure there will not be enough.’ Jerome says: ’This answer they make not from avarice, but from fear. For each individual soul will receive the reward for his own deeds, nor in the day of judgment can the virtues of one make amends for the vices of another.’ To them that sell] Clearly the bridegroom, though on the point of coming, had not yet come. If this detail is to be pressed, ’they that sell’ are the teachers and ministers of the Church (Origen).
10. And the door was shut] viz. the door of heaven.
12. I know you not] i.e. because in the true sense you have never known Me: cp. John 10:14.
14-30. Parable of the Talents (distinct from, though similar to, that of the Pounds, Luke 19:11-27, q.v.). The parable is intended for all Christians, warning even those of the meanest ability to use to the best advantage the talents with which God has entrusted them, if they would share in the future kingdom of Christ. It suitably follows and supplements the parable of the virgins; for whereas that represented Christ’s servants as waiting for Him, this represents them as working for Him; and whereas that laid stress on their inward spiritual life, this lays stress on the outward activities in which the spiritual life shows itself. It differs from the parable of the pounds in being addressed to the disciples alone, in its simpler structure, and in its not inculcating the doctrine of diversities of rewards in the world to come. ’This parable shines clearest in the light of the circumstances. Jesus and His disciples are still on Olivet overlooking Jerusalem and the temple in all their glory. Jesus had foretold their destruction. What was the cause of that ruin? Because the nation had buried the talent God had entrusted to them, instead of using it for Him.’
14. A man] i.e. Jesus Christ. Travelling into a far country] viz. when He ascended into heaven. An ancient writer beautifully says: ’He calls His going to the Father a journey into a far country out of love to the saints whom He left on the earth, for He was more truly in a far country when He was on earth.’ Theophylact says: ’He is said to go into a far country, because He is long-suffering, and does not immediately demand the fruit of men’s works, but waits.’ His own servants] lit. ’slaves.’ In ancient times slaves practised trades and professions, kept shops, carried on businesses, paying the whole, or a certain percentage, of their profits to their masters.
15. Talents] see on Matthew 18:24. ’It seems better to explain the five (talents) more extensively of all the gifts of God, whether called those of nature, or of grace, of condition, or opportunities, or sacraments. One receives five talents and another two; one has a deeper insight into God’s word, or has constitutionally a more kind or liberal disposition than another, or is trained up with more abundant means of grace, and with opportunities of turning the same to good account, or with a higher station in God’s Church than another’ (Isaac Williams).
According to his several ability] God gives men spiritual gifts according to their natural capacities; e.g. a man with a natural gift of eloquence becomes by God’s grace a good preacher; a man of natural piety, a spiritual guide; a wealthy man, a philanthropist; a profound philosopher, a theologian; a man of high social position, a powerful influence by virtue of his example, etc.
16. Traded] Christians are said to trade with their talents, when they employ them to the profit of their own souls and the benefit of others. Other five talents] The talents made in trade are the good which Christians do to themselves and others by the due use of the talents with which God has entrusted them. The talents gained by the apostles were human souls converted by them.
18. Digged in the earth] The man who hides his talent, is he who neither employs his abilities for his own spiritual advantage, nor for that of others.
19. After a long time] Another hint that the Advent may be delayed. Reckoneth with them] viz. at the Judgment.
21. Well done] In this parable the servants having been equally faithful and diligent, receive, despite the difference of the talents entrusted to them, an equal reward. It is different in the parable of the pounds, where the servants, having shown different degrees of diligence, receive different rewards., The lesson of both parables is that not ability but faithful diligence is rewarded. Over many things] ’Here again, as in Matthew 24:47 we have a glimpse given us into the future that lies behind the veil. We see that the reward of faithful work lies, not in rest only, but in enlarged activity. The world to come is thus connected by a law of continuity with that in which we live; and those who have so used their “talents” as to turn many to righteousness, may find new spheres of action, beyond all our dreams, in that world in which the ties of brotherhood that have been formed on earth, are not extinguished, but, so we may reverently believe, multiplied and strengthened’ (Plumptre). The joy] viz. of eternal blessedness (Matthew 25:34).
24. The one talent] ’Very instructive is the fact that it is the recipient of the one talent who proves the defaulter here. Henceforward none may excuse his sloth on a plea like this. So little is committed to my charge that it cannot matter how I administer that little. It is so little I can do for God, what signifies that little whether it be done or left undone?’ (Trench). I knew thee that thou art an hard man] ’The churl accounted his lord churlish, esteeming him such a one as himself. He did not believe in his lord’s forgiving love, and in his gracious acceptance of that work with all its shortcomings, which was done for him out of a true heart, and with a sincere desire to please him’ (Trench).
27. To the exchangers] RV ’bankers.’ ’We cannot regard these words as a perfectly idle sentence, for they furnish an appropriate thought. These timid natures who are not adapted for independent labour on behalf of the kingdom of God, are now advised at least to associate themselves with persons of greater strength, under whose guidance they may apply their gifts to the service of the Church’ (Olshausen). With usury] i.e. ’with interest.’
29. For unto every one] see Matthew 13:12. It is a law of the natural as well as of the spiritual world, that the disuse of a faculty finally leads to its complete loss, whereas the due use of it leads to its development and increase.
30. Weeping] RV ’the weeping.’ The penalty is not merely exclusion, as in the case of the foolish virgins, but punishment, in addition.
31-46. The last judgment described (peculiar to St. Matthew). Christ here speaks of the judgment of Christians alone, because that was the question which most concerned the Apostles and their future converts. That the persons to be judged are described in Matthew 25:32 as ’all the nations,’ is in no way inconsistent with this. Jesus foresaw, and frequently prophesied, that His religion would become universal (Matthew 8:11, etc.), and therefore appropriately described the Christians who at the Last Day will rise to be judged, as all the nations of the earth. A common interpretation, however, is that the judgment of all mankind is meant. Against this is to be set not so much the title ’Lord,’ which even His enemies will then give to Christ, as the statement that all the persons judged had regarded Christ as their Master during their lifetime, and had recognised the duty of serving Him.
32. All the nations] see above.
Sheep.. goats (or, ’kids’)] The sheep are the righteous; the goats, from their comparative worthlessness, the wicked.
33. His right hand.. the left] These expressions have the same significance in most languages. In Plato’s ’Republic’ Er the Pamphylian is allowed to see the judgment after death executed by the judges of the underworld. The judges sit between two gaps, one leading to heaven, the other to hell. ’After passing sentence, the judges commanded the just to take the road to the right upwards through the heaven, and fastened in front of them some symbol of the judgment which had been given; while the unjust were ordered to take the road downward to the left, and also carried behind them evidence of all their evil deeds.’ Similarly the rabbis said, ’Those on the right hand are the just, who study the Law, which is at the right hand of God (Deuteronomy 33:2); those on the left are the wicked, who study riches (Proverbs 3:16).’ ’In those on the right hand righteousness, in those on the left hand guilt, preponderates.’
34. The King] i.e. Christ Himself, appearing in the glory of His kingdom: cp. Revelation 19:16.
Inherit] i.e. receive by right of sonship.
35. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat] Faith in Christ being presumed (for the persons judged are professing Christians), the Judgment proceeds according to works, by which a living is distinguished from a dead faith (James 2:14-26). The absolute Lordship of Christ over the human race is expressed in a very simple yet most emphatic way when it is said that every good deed done to a fellow-creature is a good deed done to Christ, and that at the Last Day all men will be judged according to their attitude to Him.
The rabbis also have some great sayings on charity that deserve to be remembered. ’Whoever exercises hospitality willingly, to him belongs Paradise.’ ’To entertain a traveller is a greater thing than to receive a manifestation of the Divine Majesty.’ ’Whoever gives a crust to a just person, is as if he had observed the five books of the Law.’ ’Whoever visits the sick, shall be free from the judgment of Gehenna.’ ’Imitate the deeds of God. God clothes the naked (Genesis 3:21); do thou also clothe the naked. God visits the sick (Genesis 18:1), do thou also visit the sick. He consoles mourners (Genesis 25:11), do thou also console mourners.
41. Ye cursed] but not of My Father. Ye are the authors of your own ruin. Prepared] not for men, but for the devil and his angels.
46. Everlasting] RV ’eternal,’ as also in Matthew 25:41. ’Woe to all sinners, and especially to those who have no pity. It is the man who had no pity who is banished to the fire, for instead of love he put in his heart hatred. This is the sum of all vices, and its chief manifestation is inhumanity’ (Euthymius).
In the view of the present writer, the eternity of future punishment, as of future reward, is a necessary deduction from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and is expressly affirmed in this passage. The nature of it seems by no means so certain. Probably an essential part of it will be the loss of freewill, the abuse of this faculty being punished by its loss. Future punishment will in any case exhibit God’s mercy and benevolence, as well as His justice.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany