THE FATE OF THE UNPREPARED (Matthew 25:1-13)–William Barclay


Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25

THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS BY EUGENE BURNAND

If we look at this parable with western eyes, it may seem an unnatural and a “made-up” story. But, in point of fact, it tells a story which could have happened at any time in a Palestinian village and which could still happen today.

25:1-13 “What will happen in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the situation which arose when ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish took their lamps, but did not take oil with them; but the wise took oil in their vessels together with their lamps. When the bridegroom was long in coming, all of them settled down to rest and slept. In the middle of the night the cry went up, ‘Look you, the bridegroom! Go out to meet him!’ Then all these virgins awoke, and they prepared their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones. ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps have gone out.’ But the wise answered, ‘No; we cannot do that in case there is not enough for us and for you. Go rather to those who sell oil, and buy it for yourselves.’ While they went away to buy oil, the bridegroom came; and those who were ready entered with him into the marriage celebrations, and the door was shut. Later the rest of the virgins came too. ‘Sir, sir,’ they said, ‘open the door to us.’ But he answered, ‘This is the truth I tell you–I do not know you.’ Be on the watch then, for you do not know the day and the hour.”

THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS BY EUGENE BURNAND

A wedding was a great occasion. The whole village turned out to accompany the couple to their new home, and they went by the longest possible road, in order that they might receive the glad good wishes of as many as possible. “Everyone,” runs the Jewish saying, “from six to sixty will follow the marriage drum.” The Rabbis agreed that a man might even abandon the study of the law to share in the joy of a wedding feast.

The point of this story lies in a Jewish custom which is very different from anything we know. When a couple married, they did not go away for a honeymoon; they stayed at home; for a week they kept open house; they were treated, and even addressed, as prince and princess; it was the gladdest week in all their lives. To the festivities of that week their chosen friends were admitted; and it was not only the marriage ceremony, it was also that joyous week that the foolish virgins missed, because they were unprepared.

The story of how they missed it all is perfectly true to life. Dr. J. Alexander Findlay tells of what he himself saw in Palestine. “When we were approaching the gates of a Galilaean town,” he writes, “I caught a sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the dragoman told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect: ‘It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in a fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain.’ Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle-class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night; it is true that he is required by public opinion to send a man along the street to shout: ‘Behold! the bridegroom is coming!’ but that may happen at any time; so the bridal party have to be ready to go out into the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come. … Other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted.” There the whole drama of Jesus’ parable is re-enacted in the twentieth century. Here is no synthetic story but a slice of life from a village in Palestine.

Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one has an immediate and local meaning, and also a wider and universal meaning.

In its immediate significance it was directed against the Jews. they were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out. Here in dramatic form is the tragedy of the unpreparedness of the Jews.

But the parable has at least two universal warnings.

(i) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God. When Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain sought to tell her of the way of salvation. Her answer was: “I have not left this matter to this hour.” To be too late is always tragedy.

(ii) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.

Tennyson took this parable and turned it into verse in the song the little novice sang to Guinevere the queen, when Guinevere had too late discovered the cost of sin:

THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS BY EUGENE BURNAND

“Late, late so late! and dark the night and chill!

Late, late so late! but we can enter still.

Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light had we; for that we do repent;

And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.

Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!

O let us in, that we may find the light!

Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?

O let us in, tho’ late, to kiss his feet!

No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.”

There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words too late.

Daily Bible Study by William Barclay: Matthew Vol. 2

THE PERIL OF THE EMPTY HEART –William Barclay


William Barclay 1907-1978

Matthew 12:43–5 ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through waterless places, seeking for rest, and does not find it. Then it says: “I will go back to my house, from which I came out,” and when it comes, it finds it empty, swept and in perfect order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and take up their residence there. So the last state of that man becomes worse than the first; so it will be with this evil generation.’

THERE is a whole world of the most practical truth in this compact and eerie little parable about the haunted house. (1) The evil spirit is banished from the man, not destroyed. That is to say that, in this present age, evil can be conquered, driven away – but it cannot be destroyed. It is always looking for the opportunity to counter-attack and regain the ground that is lost. Evil is a force which may be at bay but is never eliminated.

(2) That is bound to mean that a negative religion can never be enough. A religion which consists of shall nots will end in failure. The trouble about such a religion is that it may be able to cleanse people by prohibiting all their evil actions, but it cannot keep them cleansed. Let us think of this in actual practice. People who drink to excess may be reformed; they may decide that they will no longer spend their time in bars; but they must find something else to do; they must find something to fill up their now empty time, or they will simply slip back into their evil ways. People whose constant pursuit has been pleasure may decide that they must stop; but they must find something else to do to fill up their time, or they will simply, through the very emptiness of their lives, drift back to their old pursuits. The lives of these people must not only be sterilized from evil; they must be nurtured to become productive and fruitful. It will always remain true that ‘Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.’ And if one kind of action is banished from life, another kind must be substituted for it, for life cannot remain empty. (3) It therefore follows that the only permanent cure for evil action is Christian action. Any teaching which stops at telling people what they must not do is bound to be a failure; it must go on to tell them what they must do. The one fatal disease is idleness; even a sterilized idleness will soon be infected. The easiest way to conquer the weeds in a garden is to fill the garden with useful things. The easiest way to keep a life from sin is to fill it with healthy action. To put it quite simply, the Church will most easily keep its converts when it gives them Christian work to do. Our aim is not the mere negative absence of evil action; it is the positive presence of work for Christ. If we are finding the temptations of evil very threatening, one of the best ways to conquer them is to plunge into activity for God and for our neighbours.

 

Barclay; William. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume Two: 2 (p. 59-60). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

 

The Equipment of the King’s Messenger by William Barclay


Matthew 10:8b-10 “Freely you have received; freely give. Do not set out to get gold or silver or bronze for your purses; do not take a bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor shoes, nor a staff. The workman deserves his sustenance.”

This is a passage in which every sentence and every phrase would ring an answering bell in the mind of the Jews who heard it. In it Jesus was giving to his men the instructions which the Rabbis at their best gave to their students and disciples.

William Barclay 1907-1978

William Barclay 1907-1978

“Freely you have received,” says Jesus, “freely give.” A Rabbi was bound by law to give his teaching freely and for nothing; the Rabbi was absolutely forbidden to take money for teaching the Law which Moses had freely received from God. In only one case could a Rabbi accept payment. He might accept payment for teaching a child, for to teach a child is the parent’s task, and no one else should be expected to spend time and labour doing what is the parent’s own duty to do; but higher teaching had to be given without money and without price.

In the Mishnah the Law lays it down that, if a man takes payment for acting as a judge, his judgments are invalid; that, if he takes payment for giving evidence as a witness, his witness is void. Rabbi Zadok said, “Make not the Law a crown wherewith to aggrandize thyself, nor a spade wherewith to dig.” Hillel said, “He who makes a worldly use of the crown of the Law shall waste away. Hence thou mayest infer that whosoever desires a profit for himself from the words of the Law is helping on his own destruction.” It was laid down: “As God taught Moses gratis—so do thou.”

There is a story of Rabbi Tarphon. At the end of the fig harvest he was walking in a garden; and he ate some of the figs which had been left behind. The watchmen came upon him and beat him. He told them who he was, and because he was a famous Rabbi they let him go. All his life he regretted that he had used his status as a Rabbi to help himself. “Yet all his days did he grieve, for he said, ‘Woe is me, for I have used the crown of the Law for my own profit!'”

When Jesus told his disciples that they had freely received and must freely give, he was telling them what the teachers of his own people had been telling their students for many a day. If a man possesses a precious secret it is surely his duty, not to hug it to himself until he is paid for it, but willingly to pass it on. It is a privilege to share with others the riches God has given us.

Jesus told the twelve not to set out to acquire gold or silver or bronze for their purses, the Greek literally means for their girdles. The girdle, which the Jew wore round his waist, was rather broad; and at each end for part of its length it was double; money was carried in the double part of the girdle; so that the girdle was the usual purse of the Jew. Jesus told the twelve not to take a bag for the journey. The bag may be one of two things. It may simply be a bag like a haversack in which provisions would ordinarily have been carried. But there is another possibility. The word is pera(<G4082>), which can mean a beggar’s collecting bag; sometimes the wandering philosophers took a collection in such a bag after addressing the crowd.

In all these instructions Jesus was not laying upon his men a deliberate and calculated discomfort. He was once again speaking words which were very familiar to a Jew. The Talmud tells us that: “No one is to go to the Temple Mount with staff, shoes, girdle of money, or dusty feet.” The idea was that when a man entered the temple, he must make it quite clear that he had left everything which had to do with trade and business and worldly affairs behind. What Jesus is saying to his men is: “You must treat the whole world as the Temple of God. If you are a man of God, you must never give the impression that you are a man of business, out for what you can get.” Jesus’ instructions mean that the man of God must show by his attitude to material things that his first interest is God.

Finally, Jesus says that the workman deserves his sustenance. Once again the Jews would recognize this. It is true that a Rabbi might not accept payment, but it is also true that it was considered at once a privilege and an obligation to support a Rabbi, if he was truly a man of God. Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: “He who receives a Rabbi in his house, or as his guest, and lets him have his enjoyment from his possessions, the scripture ascribes it to him as if he had offered the continual offerings.” Rabbi Jochanan laid it down that it was the duty of every Jewish community to support a Rabbi, and the more so because a Rabbi naturally neglects his own affairs to concentrate on the affairs of God.

Here then is the double truth; the man of God must never be over-concerned with material things, but the people of God must never fail in their duty to see that the man of God receives a reasonable support. This passage lays an obligation on teacher and on people alike.

The Daily Study Bible Series/the Gospel of Matthew Volume 1/Revised Edition by William Barclay