Forming Faith Blog

Keep Awake! (March 31, 2019)

Keep awake- old-fashioned alarm clock

We are now past the halfway mark in Lent. Each Sunday we have looked at a different parable, each telling us something about the kingdom of heaven. With this coming Sunday’s two parables, we have moved closer to the end, of the Gospel, of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and of the age.

The Little Apocalypse

Biblical scholars identify five different discourses in the Gospel of Matthew, the current one being the Olivet Discourse, or the Little Apocalypse. The turmoil described here has happened in the past (to Matthew’s audience) in the destruction of the temple and in the future (for all of us) in the end of the age. It is within this context that Jesus tells these two parables.

The End of Time

The first part of this discourse (Matthew 24:1-41) basically assures the disciples that the end will come. The Day of the Lord is not an ancient myth, but a future reality. As a 21st century mainline Protestant, the idea of the last judgment is quite unsettling and difficult to think of apart from the theology of the Left Behind series. However, central to my understanding of the kingdom of heaven is the reality that the kingdom is already here, but not yet here in its fullness. The promise of God transforming our broken, unjust world into God’s kingdom founded on love is something I dearly hold onto.

How to Wait

Starting in Matthew 24:42, Jesus moves to the question of “what now?”

Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Matthew 24:42

As Jesus’ disciples await the coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness, what are we to do? Keep awake (or be vigilant). Although this verb (grēgoreō) is the origin of my first name (Gregory), I must admit that I don’t think I’m very good at this. But, what does it mean to “keep awake?” That is what Jesus addresses in the next four parables.

  • Be faithful in doing the work assigned to you.
  • Be prepared for a long wait.
  • Take risks to continue our Master’s work.
  • Continue Jesus’ work of caring for those who need it most.
Faithful vs. Unfaithful Slaves (Matthew 24:45-51)

Each of these parables compares two sets of people as they wait for their master’s return: the good examples and the bad examples. The faithful slave keeps doing their work with integrity, whereas the unfaithful (or wicked) slave takes advantage of their privileged position to their own benefit over the needs of those who are depending on them.

Wise vs. Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13)

Our main passage for today, the story compares bridesmaids waiting to fulfill their honored work in a wedding (feast). None of them know when the groom is going to come. It seems that the “foolish” bridesmaids expect the groom to arrive on time, while the “wise” bridesmaids suspect that the groom might come late. “Better safe than sorry,” they might have said. Wisdom here follows the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Courageous vs. Frightened Slaves (Matthew 25:14-30)

The Parable of the Talents is a bit trickier when comparing the first two slaves with the third. At first glance, it appears that the master didn’t give any instructions of what the three slaves are to do with the exorbitant amount of money each is given. Without instructions, the “lazy” slave keeps the money safe, which seems a prudent thing to do. Clearly, that’s not the point. It is possible that it was always the assigned work of the slaves to invest the master’s money, so in this case, the first two continue with their work, taking the risks of investing upon themselves. If so, the third is negligent in their duty and shows lack of courage (and contempt in vv. 24-25).

Caring vs. Uncaring People (Matthew 25:31-46)

This is next week’s Narrative Lectionary passage, but it follows the same theme of work while the master is away, comparing one group to another. The first group has been spending their time being vigilant and continuing the Lord’s work of caring for “the least of these.” And, given their reaction, they did this without an understanding of the divine importance of their work. They did not expect a reward. The second group may not have lived cruel and selfish lives like the wicked slave in 24:49, but they also didn’t devote themselves to following Jesus’ work.

Work to Be Done

Taken together, these four parables flesh out what Jesus means by “keep awake.” We are vigilant when we faithfully do the work we are called to do, taking risks to further the kingdom. We should be prepared for the long haul. In the end, as for day-to-day work, your theology of the Last Day might not matter too much. If you spend your life living out God’s love for others, especially those most in need, with acts of physical, emotional, and spiritual care, you are staying vigilant, following the ways of the kingdom.

Bridesmaids vs. Talents

Given the fact that there was an alternate reading available this week, you might notice that we chose to focus on the Parable of the Talents rather than that of the Bridesmaids in those products directed at (or including) elementary-aged students. We did this because the more familiar Talents parable is more accessible and concrete for younger minds. Our Youth and Small Groups resources covered both parables.

Then & Now

No matter which parable you focus on, or even any other passage of Scripture, it is important to keep in mind the vast differences in context between the biblical cultures and our own. Translators do their best, but all readers of the Bible need to understand this, including our younger hearers of the Word. That’s why our Bible Nuts & Bolts component this week is about culture and context. Our free activity, “Then and Now” introduces kids to the idea that things are different between Jesus’ time and now. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum. Bible Nuts & Bolts is a component found in many of our products with the aim to provide participants with the knowledge and skills helpful in reading Scripture on their own.

May God continue to bless you this Lenten season.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Lent is coming toward the end! However, it’s not too late to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials and start using them!

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched! Check out the announcement blog post for more details! All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence. The 2018-2019 Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence are still available to download, too!