A Vincentian View: Three Stories—One Direction
Have you noticed that in the Sunday Gospels of these weeks, the passages have all been taken from successive verses in the 25th chapter of Matthew? The “Parable of the Ten Virgins” is Mt 25:1-13 (November 12); the parable of the “Talents” is Mt 25:14-30 (November 19); the parable of the Last Judgement is Mt 25:31- 46 (November 26). As you might imagine, the collection of these stories in one chapter towards the end of the First Gospel is no accident. Biblical scholarship discusses different ways in which the parables are related and provides an integral image. With less professional technique, we can do the same.
First of all, does it seem to you that each of the parables is focused upon those who acted badly? Is our attention drawn more strongly to the foolish virgins who do not bring enough oil, to the cautious servant who hides his master’s money, and to the indifferent people who do not see the Lord in their “at risk” brothers and sisters? It sometimes seems that way to me. The effort is to draw our attention to what we should not do rather than to what we should be doing. Do not forget to bring enough oil; do not be fearful to use the gifts which have been given to you; do not be blind to those who surround you in their need.
A second look, however, might read those emphases differently. The caution is: bring enough oil, use your gifts, and be attentive to your community. One could hear the stories as one reads a bottle of medicine (for example): this product is good for this and this, but not to be used in this way or for that purpose. Can you hear the words of Jesus similarly?
Finally, notice the flow of all the stories as they pass into their third division and head to their conclusion. In part one, the good servants are praised; in part two, the bad servant/s is/are singled out; and in part three, the separation of the two takes place and the movement into the eternal reward. In part three, the wise virgins are welcomed into the banquet, the industrious servant gains even more, and the compassionate people follow the master into the Kingdom. By the same token, the door is locked to the foolish; the “worthless, lazy, useless servant” is cast outside; and the selfish go off to eternal punishment.
A clear lesson emerges. One suffers no surprises. From both a positive and a negative point of view in each of the parables, the essential point finds emphatic focus. One cannot honestly say: “I do not get it. How should I act?” When one reads the entire chapter together, one discerns an overwhelming statement about the way in which life should be lived with effort and compassion.
As we listen to these stories at the end of the liturgical year, we are invited to acknowledge Christ as King in our lives. We recognize how we are to follow him and the consequences of the direction which we choose. The Vincentian heart requires little imagination to know what is asked of us.