All three result in some people being cast out—the bridesmaids who had to go buy oil at the last minute are left outside the door, the servant who did nothing with his talent is thrown into the outer darkness, and the goats are sent into eternal punishment. So it seems rather important to understand and obey what these parables are teaching, but I think I understand and follow only one of them with any measure of success. What about you? Which of these do you struggle with and which of these leaves you feeling comfortable?
If the parable of the bridesmaids is about having a relationship with God, I think I’m on the right track there. I do talk to him, although I know that I could do that more. I have good days with God and bad days, and some days where I think I’m as thickheaded and blind as the worst Pharisee, but I try to keep working on that. When people ask me to pray for them, I do. I wonder, though, if some people ask for prayer but don’t pray for themselves?
If the parable of the talents is truly about ANY resource we’re given, then that includes time and money and abilities and friends and family and anything else we can think of. I’ve often felt that I fall short of this one, but I’m not sure if it’s just because of the way I’m looking at it. If this is about being fruitful, then being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle and self-controlled would be signs of success (Galatians 5:22-23). Some days I’m more successful than others. If this is about time and money, I feel less successful. Maybe, though, my problem with this parable is that I fall into measuring my success through comparison with other people, something the Bible tells us not to do (Genesis 31:1-2, John 21:21-22, Galatians 6:4-5, 2 Corinthians 10:12-13).
The parable of the sheep and the goats seems to be the most straightforward. Help people in need, and if you don’t it’s as if you are refusing to help Jesus himself. But helping people has gotten so much more complicated, particularly if we consider how some ways of helping enable and encourage dependence or addiction. Sometimes I think the greater problem is that there aren’t enough resources to give all the help that’s needed and in trying to figure that out we end up frozen and not helping anyone. In both instances, maybe we are thinking too much. Just help, and if it’s squandered or insufficient so be it.
Maybe the greater lesson is that all three are important and all three areas of readiness need to have our attention. I wonder if the parable of the bridesmaids isn’t first on purpose, though. Knowing and talking to God can help us with the other two areas. And knowing and trusting in Jesus brings us grace and forgiveness, which we surely need as we try to figure all this out. We will fall short of God’s glorious standard whether we like it or not (Romans 3:23 NLT).
I like how Keith Green puts it: Just keep doing your best and pray that it’s blessed and He’ll take care of the rest.
Thanks be to God.