Forming Faith Blog

Keep Awake! (Matthew 25)

What is the significance of the Parables of the Bridesmaids and the Talents? Simply put, Jesus calls us to stay awake and continue his ministry.

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) at 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 “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 knows 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 on 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 upon themselves the risks of investing. If so, the third is negligent in their duty and shows a 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 Matthew 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.

May God continue to bless you this Lenten season.

In Christ,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Note: This blog post is edited from the original written for March 31, 2019.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Penny Giveaway” from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd, NL) (Year 1, 2022-2023 and Year 2, 2023-2024) curriculum. This activity can be used intergenerationally or with most age groups individually.

Order Faith Formation Resources

Lent is upon us! Do you have your Spring lessons yet (starting on Lent 1, 2/26/23)? You can order Spring lessons of our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources, or one of our Learning Together units! You can download the lessons as soon as your payment is processed.

Are you looking for resources for the 2023-2024 program year? You can now order resources for the Narrative Lectionary, Revised Common Lectionary, and even a new Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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