This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 7, 2016.
The combination of these passages is interesting. At first reading, two seemingly distinct messages are being presented. Verses 32 through 34 instruct the disciples to sell all they have and pursue the unfailing treasure in heaven. In a dramatic shift in message, verses 35 through 40 compel the disciples to be prepared for the Son of Man’s coming. Broadening this reading to include additional verses before and after in order to break this part of Chapter 12 into two more thematic sections seems logical.
The first thematic section would instruct the disciples to sell all they have and invite the audience to hear Jesus’ teaching on worry. Verses 22 through 31 would invite the audience to hear Jesus’ teaching on God’s provision and the call to seek God’s kingdom rather than to chase what they hold in their hands. This passage would serve as a natural context for verses 32 through 34. The second thematic section would be verse 35 through 48. This section would begin with Jesus’ call in verses 35 through 40 to be prepared. Verses 42 through 48 reveal Peter’s question and Jesus’ response, which clarifies Jesus’ call to wait in expectation and faithfulness. These additional verses further elevate the call for the servants to not only be prepared for the master’s coming, but also be a steward of the master’s wishes.
So, what are we to make of the pairing of these lectionary verses? Is there a common word found in what appears to be two diverse sets of teaching? While preaching from the two larger thematic sections might be more natural, there is power in holding these two themes in tension with one another. Together they speak to a life of faith defined by radical dependence.
The selected passage opens with a word of hope born in a pastoral image. Jesus’ audience would have understood the shepherd’s care and the flock’s profound need. Jesus uses intimate language in calling those gathered “little flock” and tells them that they do not have to be afraid. But before a breath can be breathed, Jesus turns the comforting words into a command that should still the contemporary hearer. Jesus’ expectation is that his followers will give away all they have for something much more valuable, the kingdom.
These are hard words to hear. Addressing those living in a First World context, we speak to a people defined by what they can accumulate. They can be so possessed by their possessions and so driven by their own wants and needs that they are distracted from seeking God’s kingdom. We have a strong cultural philosophy about getting, but struggle in our theology of seeking and giving. Seeking the kingdom of God and the unfailing treasure in heaven compels this passage’s audience to seek a life of utter dependence on God. An innate humility is born in a life defined by dependence, leading us toward authentic faith and trust in God.
The second half of the lectionary passage draws on the world of the servants and urges them to be prepared. It begins with the picture of the servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. It is difficult for us to fully appreciate the expectation for the servants to always be ready for the master’s coming. The punishment for being unprepared would probably have been instant and violent. Thus, there is an intensity and urgency in this image. Those gathered around Jesus would have understood the waiting servants’ tension and expectations. The servants’ very life was dependent on whether they chose to be prepared.
Jesus describes servants having prepared their clothing so they could respond quickly and be ready at the door, opening it at just the right time and serving their master the instant he enters. The picture carries the waiting servants to the middle of the night and ultimately to the edge of dawn, ready and waiting. Jesus then contrasts the blessing awaiting the prepared servants with the punishment of the unprepared servant.
The call to be prepared is echoed in the second image Jesus offers, the thief’s unexpected and abrupt arrival. This image would have resonated in the people’s religious life because it was a recurring theme in Wisdom Literature (Job 24:14, Proverbs 6:11, Proverbs 24:15, Proverbs 24:34). In contrast to the picture of the slaves awaiting the master’s return, the thief comes to the house on a day and an hour known only to him. Jesus tells the disciples they must be ready because the Son of Man’s coming will also be unexpected.
Jesus’ audience would have understood the promise of the Son of Man’s coming as being the Messiah’s coming. Today this passage speaks to people who live in the duality of the Kingdom-that-has-come and the Kingdom-that-is-to-come in Christ’s Second Coming. The call to watch and be prepared is as relevant now as it was when Jesus first announced it. Later, Paul used the same thief imagery in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 when urging the church to be prepared for the Second Coming.
These passages invite the proclaimer to call Christ’s followers to a life of dependence. Both in the giving away and in the waiting, the result of this dependent life is God’s gift of the Kingdom.
First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee
Tags: watch and prepare, possessions, servant and master, second coming, dependance