Thought for the day
The famous reflection of Teilhard de Chardin suggests itself: The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
The uncertainties of today are evident, political, economic and environmental. What can we as people of faith contribute? Again in the words of Teilhard, “there is something wonderful afoot in the universe.” The eyes of faith see the deeper pattern.
Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know you, and desire nothing, save only you. Look upon me, that I may love you. Call me, that I may see you, and for ever enjoy you. Amen.
Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
Luke 12:39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The Faithful or the Unfaithful Slave
Luke 12:41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
This passage is a continuation of Luke’s reflections on possessions and discipleship, already noted on the previous Sunday as an important theme for this Gospel. It is really in four parts: ABA*C
A. vv. 32-34: counsel on possession, with the image of a thief, in a wisdom key.
B. vv. 35-38: the household imagery is supplemented by nuptial imagery.
A*. vv. 39-40: the thief imagery returns in an explicitly apocalyptic key.
C. vv. 41-48: the imagery of keeping watch is developed with a question.
Luke has rearranged a selection of traditional material (Q = Sayings Source), intermingling his own sources (L).
V. 32 = Luke only (L)
Vv. 33-34 = Mt 6:19-21 (Q)
Vv. 35-38 = Mt 24:45-51 (Q)
Vv. 39-40 = Mt 24:43-44 (Q)
V. 41 = Luke only (L)
Vv. 42-46 = Mt 24:45-51 (Q)
Kind of writing
This text is a series of teachings on possessions, combining wisdom and apocalyptic dimensions.
Old Testament background
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1–2)
The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:9–10)
New Testament foreground
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (Acts 4:32–33). The ideal was not always observed!
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7–11)
Verse 32 The context for this saying is captured in Acts: Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:28–29) Good pleasure = “well pleased” in another context: And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
Verse 33 Alms-giving is typical of Luke-Acts (2-0-2+8). The image of the thief is established here. It has an interesting life in the NT. See Rev. 3:3 and 16:15, where Jesus himself is the thief!
Verse 34 One of those sayings found in all religious teaching and perfectly appropriate here.
Verse 35 Dressed for action is an image from athletics or from the games.
Verse 36 Wedding language is often used in the Bible for the future Kingdom. Here it is hinted at—the master is returning from a wedding. In those days weddings could take some time: With merriment they celebrated Tobias’s wedding feast for seven days, and many gifts were given to him. (Tobit 11:18b)
Verse 37 A beatitude. Alert is not typically Lucan (6-6-1+1), perhaps reflecting a time when the immediacy of the Second Coming had relaxed somewhat. The image of the master serving the servants is extraordinary. It is also in tension with: So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ (Luke 17:10 – see the whole context for the full contrast.)
Verse 38 Probably on the Roman calculation of the watches of the night, and so between 9.00 pm and 3.00 am. The beatitude is repeated and functions as a frame or inclusion.
Verse 39 It is not usual for thieves to inform their victims in advance, even in antiquity.
Verse 40 The discourse now turns to warning: it is not the immediacy but the unexpectedness of the return that is relevant.
Verse 41 The question from Peter is in Luke only. Although Matthew gives no context, the question seems not to be taken into account in the parable, and so probably not part of the earliest context.
Verse 42 Slavery is simply presumed as a social/economic phenomenon. Being a slave could range from crude ownership to virtual employment with high responsibility, regard and affection.
Verse 43 Another beatitude.
Verse 44 Cf. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. (Luke 16:10)
Verse 45 The delay of the parousia was indeed an issue: Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (2 Peter 3:14–15)
Verse 46 The retribution is savage and unexpected in so gentle a text as Luke’s. The verb used here (dichotomēo, whence our dichotomy) means the dismemberment of a condemned person. Matthew’s edition shows his hand: He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:51) The unfaithful are not really a major theme in Luke-Acts: Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” (Luke 9:41)
Verse 47 Punishment all round it seems, but in due proportion. The verb “to beat” has a range of meanings (lit. to flay, but in our texts it is less precise and means to beat or to whip). It is common in Luke-Acts (1-3-5+3). The treatment in mind can be illustrated by Acts 5:40; 16:37; 22:19. Paul uses the word a few times: For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. (2 Corinthians 11:20) Anyone reading the Gospel is most likely to be identified with the slave in v. 47, because the problem is being informed, which we all are!
Verse 48 Acting badly, even without an explicit prohibition, will draw its own punishment (“lighter beating”). The summary statement captures it all very clearly, in a parallelism which starts out antithetical but ends with another twist (“even more will be demanded”).
Pointers for prayer
1. The opening verses of this gospel invite us to ask ourselves what do we see as our purpose in life? What are our priorities? Is our heart set on material progress and advance, or do we have other priorities? What has helped you to appreciate that there is more to your life than earthly possessions and success?
2. At times, one can sense in Jesus an urgency, as if he wanted to shake people and wake them up to take his words seriously. The parable has that tone: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” When have you found that being alert enabled you to grasp a moment of opportunity that you might easily have missed, e.g., when a child or friend gives a hint that they would like to talk and a very meaningful conversation ensues.
3. Another consideration that adds to the sense of urgency in the words of Jesus is that we only have one life, and we do not know how long that will last. So Jesus calls us on us to live in the now and to treasure our time. Sometimes we can drift aimlessly through a day, and on other occasions use a day purposefully. What difference does that make, if any, to how you experience the day?
O God, on whom our faith rests secure and whose kingdom we await, sustain us by word and sacrament and keep us alert for the coming of the Son of Man, that we may welcome him without delay. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.