The Gospel lectionary for this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, is Mt 24:36-44 within Sections 139e and 139f in which Jesus tells five parables1 to impress on his disciples the importance of watchfulness for his second advent and faithfulness to the purposes of God. He said this in the last week of his life2 – on Tuesday of Holy Week. While the assigned Gospel reading is found only in Matthew, both Mark and Luke record key aspects of the same teaching – and here’s the rest of the story…
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Parsing the Collect, by Fr. Rob Eaton, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Hemet, CA
Section 139e | Sign of Nearness but Unknown Time
32 “Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch has now become tender, and produces its leaves, you know that the summer is near. 33 Even so you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 But no one knows3 of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.4 37 “As the days of Noah5 were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.6 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,7 until the day that Noah entered into the ship, 39 and they didn’t know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.8 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one will be left.9
28 “Now from the fig tree, learn this parable. When the branch has now become tender, and produces its leaves, you know that the summer is near; 29 even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know that it is near, at the doors. 30 Most certainly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
28 But when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” 29 He told them a parable. “See the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they are already budding, you see it and know by your own selves that the summer is already near. 31 Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that God’s Kingdom is near. 32 Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things are accomplished. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.
Section 139f | Five Parables to Teach Watchfulness and Faithfulness
43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.12 44 Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come.13
33 Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don’t know when the time is.14 34 “It is like a man, traveling to another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, and to each one his work, and also commanded the doorkeeper to keep watch. 35 Watch therefore, for you don’t know when the lord of the house is coming, whether at evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning; 36 lest coming suddenly he might find you sleeping. 37 What I tell you, I tell all: Watch.”
34 “So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. 35 For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth. 36 Therefore be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes.15 47 Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has. 48 But if that evil servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord is delaying his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn’t expect it, and in an hour when he doesn’t know it, 51 and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. That is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be. 1 “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps,16 and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.17 14 “For it is like a man, going into another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one;18 to each according to his own ability.19 Then he went on his journey. 16 Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. 18 But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 19 “Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them. 20 He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents in addition to them.’ 21 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 “He also who got the two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents. Behold, I have gained another two talents in addition to them.’ 23 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 24 “He also who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you didn’t sow, and gathering where you didn’t scatter. 25 I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his lord answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn’t sow, and gather where I didn’t scatter. 27 You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. 28 Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn’t have, even that which he has will be taken away.20 30 Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’21
- What illustrations did Jesus use to show the suddenness of His return? What metaphor might you use today?
- What were the different events and signs which Jesus spoke of in these five parables?
- Readiness not calculation is called for. How do you ready yourself, and remain ready?
- What is your attitude toward the end times?
- How does your understanding and reckoning with the Scriptures (preparedness) and your readiness (poise and action) affect your attitude and ministry?
- Are you being a faithful servant and steward of the spiritual gifts God has entrusted to you, or have you been slothful or negligent in your spiritual service? What is the yield of what has been entrusted to you?
- See also: Harmony’s Parables of Christ.
- Listen to Tuesday podcast in the Holy Week Mini Series.
- Although signs may indicate the nearness of the Second Coming, this event cannot be calculated.
- We think that the WEB has correctly left out the phrase “nor the son” which is present in some manuscripts. The theological debate here is revolves around something theologians call “hypostatic union” that by his incarnation Jesus was both a human in nature and divine in nature – thus fully God and fully man. His incarnation united his divine being within his human body (Jn 1:14) and soul/spirit (Mt. 27:50). Each part of his nature retained certain attributes requiring that grow physically, emotionally, and mentally as a man, while retaining also his divine nature which was omniscient. The disciples themselves already attested to his omniscience (Jn 16:30, Jn 21:17) rightly as Jesus very nature as God would require at some point in time his omniscience. In fact, we’ve seen this time and again in the Gospels. As for the future the Gospel record says that he knew about: the coming persecution (Mt 10:18), His own suffering (Mt. 16:21; 17:12; 20:19) the betrayal (Mt. 26:34), the final judgment (Mt. 10:15; 11:22; 12:36), the reward (Mt. 19:29), and His future glory (Matt. 16:27). Yet he also knew about things past: foreknowledge of Nathaniel (Jn 1:49), the one who would betray him (Jn 13:11). Jesus also knew (discerned) things in the very moment such as: the thoughts of His audience (Mt. 9:4), the malice of others (Mt 22:18), the thoughts of others (Mt 12:25, Luke 6:8), as he will be able to judge the intent of our will and heart when we see him face to face (Rev 2:23).
- The Story of Noah and the people he hoped to save is recorded in Gen 5:32-10:1. CR Heb 11:7, 1Pt 3:20-21,
- The Parousia, G3952. παρουσία — a presence, a coming. Depending on the translation you may be reading the word parousia was translated as “coming” in: 1Cor 15:23; 1Thess 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2Thess. 2:1, 2:8-9; Jms 5:7,8; 2Peter 1:16, 3:4,12; 1Jn 2:28 and translated presence: 2 Cor. 10:10 and Phil. 2:12. The word is derived from the verb “be present.” Originally it meant presence, yet it frequently means “arrival” as the onset of one’s presence after returning as in “coming again” or “second coming”.
- CR Rom 13:13-14; Lk 21:34; Gal 5:20-21; 1Ths 2:12, 4:3-5; 1Pt 4:3-5; 2Pt 2:18-20; Phil 4:8-9.
- Do not be unaware and ignorant; nor ill-prepared by failing to receive his Grace; nor unchanged by the renewing of your mind; or unmotivated by your lack of readiness and action. CR:Acts 14:31; 1Pt 1:5, 5:8.
- This phrase would no doubt have reminded the disciples and the early Christians (of Jewish origin) the stories of Ex 11 the final plague which God sent to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites which also inspired the psalmists Ps 78, 136, 135, 105.
- Its important in every study to remember context, culture and the characters – and this is no different. Especially as many confuse the preceding passages Mt 24:1-3 / Section 139a and his reply Mt 24:4-14 / Section 139b which deals with the destruction of the temple (which happened in AD 70) rather than with the second coming.
- Echoed again and again by the Apostles: Rom 13:11; 1Ths 5:6; 1Cor 16:13; 1Pt 5:8; Rev 3:1-6.
- Prophecy about the future is always given for the purpose of affecting life transformation in the present moment. Not later. For us today as in each generation, then there is an imperative that we act! The we ready ourselves, and remain ready.
- CR: 1Ths 5:2-6; 2Pt 3:10-18.
- Few recognized Jesus as the Christ at his first advent, and the disciples astounded by his triumphal entry (Mt 28:8,9/Section 128b) hoped to understand his Kingship and the end of the age (Mt 24:3/Section 139a) yet moments after he told them these parables he also told them the immanency of his own crucifixion as the Sanhedrin plot against him as the day drew to close (Mt 26:1-5/Section 140).
- The charge here is for action, just as we’ve written prophesy is to call us to immediate and appropriate action. It calls for godly mindset, attitude and action as in: 2Tim 4:6-8; Phil 1:21-23; Gal 2:20; Rom 8:35-39; 1Ths 4:13-15.
- This is a different parable than that in Lk 12:35-48 / Section 108c
- The parable of the Ten Virgins teaches us that no one else can get you ready for your own end.
- A talent is no small amount be it gold or silver. One talent is the equivalent weight of about 75 lbs – so at the current conversion rates 1 talent (75lbs) of silver would be worth approximately $18,000 USD, and nearly $1.3MM if in gold. That’s a great deal of trust in Jesus’ day and our own.
- These talents are not of salvation but abilities associated with spiritual gifts – for grace is imparted and is an incorruptible seed (1Pt 1:23; 1Cor 15:53-54).
- In this parable Jesus is saying that he wants us to be productive with the grace and gifts he has bestowed and entrusted to us. Whatever you might possess, and which ever spiritual gifts and vocation you may have – God expects you to use it and generate a yield that will honor him and serve his greater good – not yourself or your own desires.
- Remember that parables are told to evoke immediate and godly action – not to elaborate a final certain outcome. At this point we must urge you to study the next parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Section 139g which teaches us that we can get ourselves ready by being the eyes, and ears, hands and feet of Jesus in the world by caring for the least of these.