Luke XLVI: Lk. 12:35-59
Over the last few weeks, the world has witnessed a particularly spectacular American presidential election and aftermath – spectacular for its multiple layers of surprise. But perhaps the greatest surprise has been the sheer distance revealed between the various factions in America, the revelation of just how deep and wide the divisions are in America. While Jesus is speaking to first century Jews in Luke 12, His words are still for us and for our world: His people are called to be on high alert.
Given the context, the command to gird up your loins (“stay dressed for action”) and to keep your “lights burning” (Lk. 12:35) is a way of summarizing all the previous exhortations, which have largely had to do with valuing God and His Kingdom over the opinions of man and material possessions or wealth. Being ready for the Lord is living day by day in light of the fact that God is real, that He sees all things, knows all things, and cares for you and has come and will come again for you (Lk. 12:36). Those servants who “watch” and “wait” for the lord keep their “lights burning” – that is, they continually cling to the light of God’s word on their lives and trust it to see the world around them (Ps. 119:105). They prize the Word of God and His Wisdom as silver and gold (Ps. 119:127), and nothing they desire compares with it (Prov. 3:13-18). This relates back to “ask, seek, knock” (Lk. 11:9-10), the gift of the Spirit (Lk. 11:13), and the gift of the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32). What do you need above all else?
Jesus says that the lord in the parable will gird himself and invite the servants to a meal and serve them – even if it’s in the middle of the night (Lk. 12:37-38). This is exactly what Jesus is preparing to do in Jerusalem: He will gird Himself and wash the disciples feet (Jn. 13:4ff) and serve the Last Supper, and finally give His body and blood for the life of the world, for our feast. But that will take wisdom to see and understand. It will look to many like just another petty failed Jewish-resistance movement. It will look scandalous and foolish (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), which is why the disciples must be vigilant, keeping watch, seeking the Kingdom, finding their meaning, their treasure, their hope in the Kingdom of God. This is still the task of Christian disciples today.
Faithful & Unfaithful
Jesus shifts the image to a master protecting his home from a thief, and He says that the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour (Lk. 12:39-40). Peter asks who the parable is aimed at, and Jesus says that those the master leaves in charge of the household, (which would seem to be the apostles, Lk. 12:41-42) who are faithful and wise are the ones who faithfully feed the servants (Lk. 12:42-43). Again, this seems to be parallel to what He will tell the disciples during the Passover: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet…” (Jn. 13:14) He will make those stewards rulers like Pharaoh set Joseph over all of his house (Lk. 12:44, cf. Gen. 41:40). This is the second time in this chapter Jesus has told a story about someone talking to himself (cf. Lk. 12:19), which underlines the self-centeredness of his treatment of the other servants (Lk. 12:45). Self-centeredness is always unprepared for others (Lk. 12:46). The master will do unto that unfaithful servant what he did to others, according to their knowledge (Lk. 12:46-48).
This “coming” of Jesus should be understood broadly as the Kingdom of God coming (Lk. 11:2), beginning with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, continuing with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the entire history of the Church, and the final physical return of Jesus. This is the “fire” that Jesus came to cast on the earth (Lk. 12:49). Jesus says that He has a baptism to be baptized with and that He is in great distress until it is accomplished (Lk. 12:50). And then Jesus immediately explains that this fire/baptism is directly connected to the “division” He has come to bring on earth (Lk. 12:51-52). This ultimately goes back to when Adam and Eve were driven out the garden after their sin and God placed the cherubim at the entrance with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). The sacrifices, especially the ascension offering/”burnt offering”, pictured this reality: only by passing through the flaming sword of God’s judgment against sin could people re-enter the presence of God. This is why the wisdom of the Spirit and His Word is needed. Once again, the way of Jesus seems counterintuitive.
A Time for Reconciliation
But Jesus says that this counterintuitive path is not impossible to perceive. He says that the fact that the Jews can perceive the weather and cannot perceive the time is a deep hypocrisy – remember the leaven of the Pharisees (Lk. 12:54-56, cf. 12:1). It’s striking that it is in this context that Jesus urges His disciples to settle with their accuser before the judgment, lest they land in prison to pay the very last penny (Lk. 12:57-59). Taking this all together, it seems likely that the immediate application goes back to His command to be ready for action, to keep their lights burning. In other words, in Jesus, the Kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and if they discern the time rightly, they should recognize that God has come and is coming, and nothing that is covered up will not be revealed, nothing hidden will not be known (cf. Lk. 12:2). Those who understand the time rightly ought to be keeping their master’s house diligently, caring for their fellow servants and settling all debts as quickly as possible. If Jesus opens the way of the Kingdom through His death and resurrection and the Jews reject it, they will be the ones who owe a great debt that they will never be able to pay (Rom. 6:23).
Conclusion & Applications
Perhaps the most pressing question is: how can we tell the difference between god-honoring divisions and hypocritical antagonism? How can we be faithful managers and servants, ready for our Master at all times? The fundamental division is over whether there even is a Master. We must not apologize for that, but we proclaim our Master as the only way of peace for our nation and the world.