Serving the in between: readiness

Holy-Face-of-Jesus-2335 “Gird your loins and light your lamps 36 and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. 38 And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.

39 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Having taught about the right use of wealth (vv.22-34, our “missing” text), Jesus reinforces those teachings with the reminder that earthly things are transient at best, but the return of Jesus is certain. In our day, we immediately think in terms of the second coming. But for Jesus’ first century listeners that would be incomprehensible. What is more likely is these verses represent a warning for the impending crisis associated with the crucifixion.  While other meanings may accrue, there is a permanent application in that Jesus’ followers must always be ready to face the crises of life in the spirit of true discipleship. This of course only is the beginning of the meaning and in no way exhausts the richness for clearly there is a reference to the second coming. This passage also fits within a larger theme of watchfulness (12:1-13:9) that is connected not only in theme but in using “masters and servants” as a metaphor for learning and reflection.

“be like servants…ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks” Be it crisis or second coming, central to the test of faith is the challenge of constant readiness for the Master’s return – either in the parousia or in the Spirit. In several ways Jesus emphasizes that the time of the return will be a surprise – the return of the master from a wedding and the coming of a thief whose arrival is not certain. The examples highlight a constant preparedness – even during the long watches of the night (v.38).

Jesus describes servants who will not be found unprepared, but will open the door as soon as the master knocks, and show themselves prepared for whatever service he wants. Any master who finds his servants in such a state of readiness is pleased. This one is so pleased that he reverses the normal roles and has them sit at table while he serves them a meal (v.37). The reward of God’s people is never commonplace: it is always the unexpected.

In v.39 there is a subtle change in the focus of preparedness.  Where earlier those to be at the ready were the servants, as regards safeguarding the household, here, it is the master of the house. Jesus rounds off this section with the explicit statement that the disciples do not know when the Son of man is coming. That coming is certain, but the time is not known; it will be “on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour” (v. 46). All true disciples must therefore live in constant readiness, as the whole of the foregoing section makes clear.

Notes

Luke 12:35 Gird your loins: The girding of the loins is a step towards preparedness. The long, flowing robes of the Easterner were picturesque, but prone to hinder serious labor, so working the robe were tucked into a belt about the waist. The fastening of the belt also recalls the preparations for the Exodus (Exod 12:11). The Hebrew people were to be ready to move immediately when the call of the Lord came. In other OT texts the phrase is used as an expression for readiness or service (cf. 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 4:29; 9:1; Job 38:3; 40:7). Other translations try to make sense to the modern reader as follows: NRSV has “be dressed for action;” NIV: “be dressed ready for service;” CEV: “Be ready.”

light your lamps: The additional command also emphasizes watchfulness (cf. Exod. 27:20; Lev. 24:2). who await: The theme of watchfulness, related to the eschatological day of Yahweh, is the emphasis of this parable of the Waiting Servants (12:35–38) and the parable of the Unexpected Thief (12:39–40). This theme echoes several OT passages (cf. Isa. 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; Amos 5:18; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:14–18; Mal. 4:5–6).

Commentaries

  • Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995)
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997)
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Scripture –  Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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