In the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we find that Jesus taught 46 parables. I believe there were probably many, many more. Won’t it be great to hear them all one day? But now we are at the end of his mortal ministry. He has gathered his faithful followers together one last time and is about to teach them three final parables. So which three did the Savior save for last? Let’s find out.
By way of introduction, these parables were all given on Har Ha Zeitim—the Mount of Olives. It lies just east of the Old City across the Kidron Valley. There are three peaks on this 2.2 mile-long mountain range, which is actually more like a hill. The highest peak is only about 262 feet higher than the temple mount, but it gives its hikers a panoramic view of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Now-a-days it takes about 25 minutes to walk from the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, down through the Kidron Valley, and back up to the top of the hill.
At the time of Christ, scholars believe it was covered with olive orchards, fig orchards, palm groves, and myrtle and other shrubs. That is until Titus Flavius Caesar came and deforested the land and destroyed the city and the temple in 70 AD.
It is here, according to Zechariah 14:4, where the resurrection of the dead begins. The mountain contains a fair amount of calcium carbonate or soft chalk—making it easy to carve out tombs and create a necropolis. Which is why about 150,000 people are buried on this mount, including the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Now-a-days, it costs up to $50,000 for a single plot.
It is here, on this mountain, where Jesus taught us how to pray as he delivered the beautiful Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….”
It is here, 11 years after the modern church was organized, where Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve blessed both the land and all the children of Abraham.
It is here, in 1989, it is here, on the side of the northern peak, Mount Scopus, where Howard W. Hunter dedicated Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.
It is here, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where you will find a little grove of olive trees where they harvested olives and pressed it into oil. We call it the Garden of Gethsemane, perhaps the most sacred spot in the universe, where the holy atonement was worked out by the bloodied and broken-hearted Lamb of God.
And it is here, 43 days later, from the top of its highest peak, the resurrected Lord said goodbye to his followers and ascended into heaven in clouds of glory.
Okay, that’s enough background, now let’s jump into the three parables that Jesus saved for the end of his ministry. We’re in Matthew, chapter 25.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
When the Prophet Joseph Smith reviewed the New Testament, under the inspiration of the Spirit he made some minor changes to Matthew chapter 25, adding or rearranging a few words here and there. As a result, I believe the parable reads a bit better and is a little easier to understand. I’ll be using the Inspired Version today. As you follow along in the King James Version, see if you can spot the differences.
Matthew 25: 1-12 (JST) / 1-13 (KGV)
1 And then, at the day, before the Son of Man comes, the kingdom of heaven shall be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2 And five of them were wise, and five of them were foolish.
3 They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them; but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
4 While the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept.
5 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
6 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
7 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
8 But the wise answered, saying, Lest there be not enough for us and you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
9 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut.
10 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us.
11 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Ye know me not.
This parable is based on Jewish wedding customs. At the time of Jesus, the bridegroom and his friends would escort the bride from her home to the home of the bridegroom. As they traveled, their friends and relatives would join the procession. These weddings normally took place at night, often through the midnight hours and into the wee morning hours, when Venus, the “morning star,” would appear in the East just before sunrise. To make it safely through the night, those waiting for the bride and bridegroom carried small oil lamps. Upon arriving at the bridegroom’s home, the entire party would go inside for the wedding ceremony and celebration.
While this is nice glimpse into the Jewish culture of the time, just about everything we read is symbolic of something else. So what do all of these symbols mean? Let’s dig into them one at a time.
Who is the bridegroom? The Lord.
Who is the wife? Those who will be sealed to the Lord’s family and live in his celestial kingdom.
Who are the virgins? Those who are pure and faithful and undefiled. They are not pagans, heathens, or gentiles—they are people who have access to the saving and exalting ordinances of the priesthood. According to Spencer W. Kimball, they are the members of the church. They are us.
Why are there ten? In the scriptures, the number ten almost always represents completion or wholeness—in this case, the entire church. Ten also represents spiritually significant things—like we find in paying ten percent of our income as tithing, the ten commandments, the ten plagues, the ten pieces of silver, and so on.
Where is the wedding? It takes place at the Savior’s home. It is also known as the New Jerusalem, Zion, Heaven, and the Celestial Kingdom. It is the place where, because of the atonement, we can finally be “at one” with the Savior and the rest of our heavenly family.
What are the lamps? They are small, made out of clay, and can be held in the palm of your hand. They were filled with olive oil and a wick was floated non top and burned to provide light. Lamps are bearers of light. They contain purifying fire.
The lamps represent the Holy Ghost. Therefore those who have lamps that burn are led by the Spirit. They are familiar with his voice and listen to his promptings—especially during the darkest hours in the middle of the night.
What does the wedding represent? It may mean a couple of things. But in today’s context we’re going to say it represents the second coming of the Lord.
It sounds like half of the virgins were expecting him at a certain time and then he came later than expected. Their oil had run out. Even the five wise virgins barely had sufficient for their needs—if they shared what they had, they wouldn’t have had enough. The lesson is that everyone must carry their own light and not walk by the light of others.
But half of the virgins were wise and the other half were foolish. They all had oil to begin with, but only five had oil when they most needed it. Only half of us will make it to the wedding. Only half of us will have the Spirit with us when we need it the most. Only half of us will be prepared when the Savior comes again. Are we prepared? Spiritually? Physically? Do we have enough oil?
Where does the oil come from? In this parable, when they ran out, the five foolish virgins went out to find someone to sell them some more—and I doubt there were many 24-hour convenience stores back in those days. They probably paid quite a premium for the oil. Not only in money—but in time and energy that they didn’t have. And so they arrived late. Too late to be admitted. They had to sit outside the pearly gates and listen in misery as the ceremony and celebration went on without them.
President Spencer W. Kimball once wrote:
In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps. (“Faith Precedes the Miracle”, 256.)
Brothers and sisters, I interpret this to mean that if we want to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, if we want to be celestialized, if we want to return to our heavenly home, we must not be like the half of the virgins who were foolish. We must be like the half who was wise.
The way I see it, this means we can’t be an average member of the church—the best of the worst and the worst of the best. That puts us right on the fence; not quite in and not quite out. So we have to be above average. We have to be above average in keeping the Sabbath day holy. We have to be above average in paying our tithes and offerings. We have to be above average home and visiting teachers. We have to be above average in fulfilling our callings. We have to be above average in reading the scriptures.
If we don’t—if we find ourselves below average—then we need to lengthen our stride and quicken our pace and move on up to the front rows. The Lord is pleading with us to hurry up. To get up close and personal to him. He is tarrying at the door—waiting for us, encouraging us, sending people to give us strength we need to press forward. We just have to decide to stop lagging behind and get a move on. Time’s-a-wasting. The door is going to shut, with our without us on the inside.
So let us be watchful, and observant, and prepared in all things—for we really don’t know the precise day nor the hour when the Savior will come again. But we do know it will come when the world is surrounded in error and darkness and the only thing that will give us comfort and guidance as we stumble about, it the light and truth which comes when we hearken to the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Talents
Now let us continue on with the next parable. In the King James Version, this starts in verse 14. This is the parable of the talents.
By the way, the word “talent” comes from the Greek work tálanton, which means “balance, sum, weight.” It was an amount of money, by weight, usually equal to the weight of an average person. In 1st Kings a talent of gold weighed 125 pounds or $2,370,000. By the time of Christ, it had dropped down to about 75 pounds—people must have been skinnier. Other sources say it was worth 20 years of wages for a common laborer. At any rate, it was a tremendous amount of money.
Note that it didn’t mean capacity of achievement, success, or natural ability or endowments. That is our modern definition of the word talent. However, either definition works well in this parable.
Matthew 25: 13-31 (JST) / 14-30 (KGV)
13 Now I will liken these things unto a parable.
14 For it is like as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
For the record, the traveling man is the Lord, sent to the earth by our Heavenly Father. As the son of God he is wealthy—not as the world measures wealth, but endowed with spiritual riches and heavenly gifts. Soon, he’s going to leave our presence and go to a far country. When he leaves, he gives some of his wealth to his servants, his beloved disciples. In this case we are—or at least are trying to be—the Lord’s servants. We have been entrusted with the goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway went on his journey.
Here we have scriptural proof that this life is not meant to be fair. We are each given various amounts of “wealth” because we are servants to an extremely benevolent master. He has carefully and thoughtfully doled it out. Some have more, some have less. Regardless of the amount, each of us are given something that we did not earn. Nor did we win it or inherit it. It was originally the Lord’s wealth and he is simply sharing it with us. Why? Because he wants us to do something good with it until he comes back to earth or until we return to his presence.
16 Then he that had received the five talents, went and traded with the same; and gained other five talents.
17 And likewise he who received two talents, he also gained other two.
18 But he who had received one, went and digged in the earth and hid his lord’s money.
I’m not sure I can blame this last guy. I mean the first two doubled their money with labor and hard work. But 75 pounds of gold is a ton of money. Well, not a ton, but a whole lot. Heck, 75 pounds of quarters is worth $1500. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable investing it. I’d probably dig a hole about three feet deep on the southeast side of my cherry tree and store it there. Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
Someday, after a seemingly long time, we will meet face-to-face with the Lord again. Whether this is at his second coming, or at the end of our lives, we will definitely meet him again. At that time he will want to know what we’ve done with what we’ve been given. Ready or not, we will each have our own day of reckoning.
20 And so he that had received the five talents came, and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained besides them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two talents besides them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Remember, we are talking about our judgment day here. This is the day when we give the Lord an accounting of our mortal stewardship—what we did with our time and talents and means. Did we build up the Lord’s celestial kingdom? Did we spend it buying Telestial trinkets? Or did we just keep it safe and sound and buried?
Speaking of burying our talents, some of you know that I’m the ward music chairman. I love music. I’m not particularly good at performing it but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I’ve been playing for meetings and singing in choirs since I was a kid, even though I’ve only had a year or two of lessons. And you can tell. I can’t play many more than four notes at a time, and my timing is awful, and I’ve only recently figured out how to make my feet play notes at the same times as my hands. When I sing, my voice is usually flat and somewhat nasally. And because I have asthma, it lacks a lot of oomph. It is definitely not solo quality. Even my wife and kids have forbidden me from singing around the house. But the more I practice the better I get. Either that or I’m getting more and more deaf. Probably a little of both. But it still brings me joy. But more importantly than that, it helps me feel the Spirit. Some of my greatest spiritual experiences have been associated with beautiful music.
When I was a seminary student, I remember reading Psalms 100, verses 1 and 2.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
I read that as a commandment, rather than a suggestion. Furthermore, after an exhaustive search, I found that it doesn’t say anything in the scriptures about being on pitch or singing four different parts. In fact it specifically mentioned noise. A joyful noise. Not a somber or subdued under-the-breath, half-hearted, mouthing of words.
The way I see it, if all goes well, we are going to find ourselves singing the Lord’s praises for eternity. I don’t know about you, but I need some practice time here on earth. If I don’t practice with the ward choirs, the heavenly choirs might not take me and I might get stuck with the bagpipers or accordion players. Not good.
So this is a plug to sing more often and with more heartiness and vigor. It is also a plug to volunteer to play or sing a song in sacrament meeting. We need a little more heart and soul in our meetings. A little more va-va-voom. A little less Catholic and a little more Baptist.
In fact, to help you remember to sing with gusto, each week from here on out I’m going to purposefully make a mistake or two as I play the organ. When you hear that, it will be your cue to kick it up a notch and sing it like you mean it.
Sorry for that tangential diatribe. But it kind-of fit into today’s lesson. Now, back to the parable.
24 Then he who had received the one talent came, and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not scattered.
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; and lo, here is thy talent; take it from me as thou hast from thine other servants, for it is thine.
Perhaps the servant meant well but his heart and soul just wasn’t into it. Perhaps he was afraid of losing it all. Or perhaps he was just lazy. But for whatever reason he decided not to toil and labor. He chose not to put to use and magnify the gifts he had been given. He just kept them hidden and locked away where no one could benefit from it.
It seems evident that the Lord just wants us to at least double our talents. If we were given one, he wants back two. If we were given five, he wants back ten. When we do that, he will allow us to keep all ten; but if we don’t, then we lose it all. You see, it doesn’t matter how many gifts God gives to you—it only matters what you do with them.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, O wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not scattered.
27 Having known this, therefore, thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 I will take, therefore, the talent from you, and give it unto him who hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one who hath obtained other talents, shall be given, and he shall have an abundance.
30 But from him that hath not obtained other talents, shall be taken away even that which he hath received.
31 And his lord shall say unto his servants, Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Outer darkness. Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sounds much worse than a root canal at the dentist’s office.
Besides the supernal gifts of the Savior—the gifts of redemption, restoration, and resurrection—Heavenly Father has endowed us with a whole host of spiritual talents and gifts. For example, here are a few that were mentioned by Elder Marvin J. Ashton back in the October 1987 general conference:
Let us review some of these less conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost. (Ensign, Nov 1987, p20)
This parable teaches us that we have each been given at least one talent by the Lord (D&C 46:11-12). We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it, but it was given nonetheless. And when much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). Our gifts were not given to us just for our own edification, but for the edification of others.
In the first parable of the ten virgins we learned that in order to gain exaltation and enter into the presence of the Lord—whenever that may be—we must keep the commandments and be guided by the Spirit. But in this parable, Jesus takes it one step further. We also must find ourselves in the service to others.
You see, being personally righteous and keeping the commandments, like the law of chastity, isn’t enough. We are also called to help others become pure and holy—we help them come unto Christ.
And then what? What happens next? How do we know if we’ve done enough? Well let’s read the Savior’s last parable and find out.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
This is the parable of the sheep and the goats. For many on the Mount of Olives, this may very well be the last words they ever hear him speak.
It is so amazingly appropriate that he, whose birth was announced by angels to lowly shepherds, who spent his life toiling as the good shepherd, now leaves his flock with a choice of how they are going to live out the rest of their lives when he isn’t around. Are they going take everything that they have heard and seen and felt and become sheep, or are they are going to become goats. He is also going to take the time to clearly describe the consequences of their choices—something good leaders and parents always do.
Matthew 25: 32-47 (JST) / 31-46 (KGV)
32 When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he shall sit upon the throne of his glory;
33 And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth sheep from the goats; the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.
34 And he shall sit upon his throne, and the twelve apostles with him.
35 Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
36 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me;
37 I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
38 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee; or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
39 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and clothed thee?
40 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
41 And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
42 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
43 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink;
44 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
45 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
46 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not unto me.
47 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.
The parable not only talks about the Lord’s second coming—when he’ll come to rule and reign on the earth for a thousand years—but it also talks about the time when we will meet the Lord face-to-face after we die and be judged. At both of these times, the Lord will separate us as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Who are the sheep? The sheep are the people who give their lives in service to others. They sacrifice their own selfish desires—their egos and their ids. They believe, and act like they believe, that the world doesn’t revolve around them or their ideas or their behaviors. That’s what got the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the Scribes in so much trouble. They loved to hear themselves talk. They loved to be the center of attention. They loved to tell other people how righteous they were and how to live their lives. On the other hand, a truly humble sheep is willing to climb up on the holy alter, in a similitude of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and offer their selfish desires as a sacrifice.
Who are the goats? The goats are those who ignore others in pursuit of their own goals. They don’t need other goats around them. They don’t follow the shepherd and prefer to hang about on dangerous cliffs. Left free to roam, they eat up just about everything and anything and cause lots of damage. If you’re not a sheep, you’re a goat.
Contrary to popular opinion, being a sheep isn’t so baa-ad. It doesn’t mean we are stupid and blindly follow our leaders. It doesn’t mean that we only eat and drink in the green pastures to satisfy our personal desires. It doesn’t just mean that we spend our time producing something that benefits others—like sheep who are occasionally sheared for their warm wool. It also means that we are willing to sacrifice everything we have or ever will have for each other. It means we are willing to become like our beloved Savior in every possible way.
Fellow sheep wannabes: let us take as much time as we need to ruminate over these parables. Chew them around for as long as you need. But, as soon as possible, let us get up and get a move-on because we will each meet the Lord sooner than we think.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be more wise than foolish. We need to add drops of holy oil every day to our lamps as we consecrate ourselves, magnify our talents, and show genuine charity and compassion to all around us. If we do so, the Lord has promised that he will one day say to us these magnificent words:
“Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”