I have to be honest. For the next three weeks the lectionary will be looking at parables of Jesus that I really dislike. There I said it! At first blush in the parables of the bridesmaids, the talents, and the sheep and goats Jesus seems to contradict everything he says (and does) throughout his ministry. Throughout his life, death, and resurrection Jesus approaches sinners with one-way love irregardless of what they’ve done. In these final parables though it seems that in the end it is all up to what we do anyway whether its keeping our lamps full of oil, using our talents (not talent like an ability) well, or giving a drink to the thirsty.
It also doesn’t help that this is usually how these passages get preached. The oil is often seen as our good works, the talents are about wisely using what God has given us, and the sheep and goats is about giving to the poor. This said, is this the way these parables are to be read? Thankfully they’re not. Preachers and theologians both in the past and present have approached these passages differently. This said, as I’m taking a journey through these absurdly difficult parables over the next three weeks I simply want to pass along to you some of the profound insights others have arrived at concerning them. We begin today with 18th century preacher George Whitefield’s take on the Parable of the Bridesmaids:
Blessed be the Lord, who delights to our redemption was finished. It is not our sins, but our want of a lively faith in his blood, that will prove our condemnation: if you draw near to him by faith, though you are the worst of sinners, yet he will not say unto you “Verily I know you not.” No, a door of mercy shall be opened to you.
Look then, look then, by an eye of faith, to that God-man whom ye have pierced. Behold him bleeding, panting, dying upon the cross, with arms stretched out ready to embrace you all. Hark! How he groans! See how all nature is in agony! The rocks rend, the graves open; the sun withdraws its light, ashamed as it were to see the God of nature suffer; and all this to usher in man’s great redemption. Nay, the Holy Jesus, in the very agonies and pangs of death, prays for his very murderers; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If then you have crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame, yet do not despair, only believe, and even this shall be forgiven. Come then, all ye that are weary and heavy laden with the sense of your sins, lay hold on Christ by faith, and he will give you rest; for salvation is the free gift of God to all them that believe.
And though you may think this too good news to be true, yet I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, this is the gospel, this is the glad tidings which we are commissioned to preach to every creature…
Come then, all ye that are weary and heavy laden with the sense of your sins, lay hold on Christ by faith, and he will give you rest; for salvation is the free gift of God to all them that believe. And though you may think this too good news to be true, yet I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, this is the gospel, this is the glad tidings which we are commissioned to preach to every creature. Be not faithless then, but believing. Let not the devil lead you captive at his will any longer; for all the wages he gives his servants is death, death often in this life, death everlasting in the next: But the free gift of God, is eternal life to all that believe in Jesus Christ. Pharisees are and will be offended at my coming here, and offering you salvation on such cheap terms; but
the more they bid me hold my peace, the more will I cry out and proclaim to convicted sinners, that Jesus, David’s Son according to the flesh, but David’s Lord as he was God, will have mercy upon all that by a living faith truly turn to him. If this is to be vile, I pray God, I may be more vile. If they will not let me preach Christ crucified, and offer salvation to poor sinners in a church, I will preach him in the lanes, streets, highways and hedges; and nothing pleases me better, than to think I am now in one of the devil’s strongest holds.
Surely, the Lord has not sent me and all you hither for nothing; no, blessed be God, the fields are white ready unto harvest, and many souls I hope will be gathered into his heavenly garner. It is true, it is the midnight of the church, especially the poor church of England, but God has lately sent forth his servants to cry, “Behold the bridegroom cometh:” I beseech you, O sinners, hearken unto the voice! Let me espouse you by faith to my dear master; and henceforward “watch and pray,” that you may be ready to go forth to meet him.”