|Luke 12:35-40 (NRSV)
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 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. 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“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. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
The last couple of weeks, we have been talking about Bible lessons that boil down to attitude. Today’s passage is similar, even if the examples seem a little strange to us.
The first part of our text reminds me of one of the first lessons a new karate student learns. (We have a karate class at Luminary.) It is a lesson in how to stand when nothing else seems to be going on. We call it a ready stance. The feet are parallel, shoulder-width apart and balanced, knees bent. The hands are lowered, closed and slightly extended from the body.
The odd thing about the ready stance is we really don’t do much with it except stand in it while someone—usually, the teacher—is talking. If you know you are going to spar or work on a self-defense technique, there are better, more obvious ways to stand.
As you might expect, students, especially young students, tend to drift out of the ready stance, letting their arms go to their side or their feet shift. But when they begin to wiggle, they’re demonstrating they’ve not yet grasped an important principle: Be ready—be balanced and aware—even when it seems like nothing is about to happen.
In our everyday moments, it can seem like nothing is about to happen in regard to Christ’s return. After all, Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven more than 1,983 years ago, and he has yet to come back. That’s 99 generations that have lived and died waiting for but not seeing Christ’s return.
And yet, we are still supposed to be living lives conformed to God’s will, as if Christ’s return could be at any moment. We pray he finds us ready when he comes. Why? Because while we cannot save ourselves, the eternal life Christ gives us cries out for a holy response.
I’m largely speaking to believers, so I also can answer “why” this way: The master says so.
How do you feel about being compared to slaves, by the way? Jesus is speaking in a different time, when slavery was a common part of culture, but his words are still appropriate for us today. Slavery is obnoxious to us today because no human has a right to own another human.
Certainly our creator and redeemer can still demand such complete allegiance, however. Such language is good for us to use now because it can bring a sense of humility to so-called modern people. We can become a little haughty as we look at advancements in technology and society, thinking, “Look what we’ve done.” (A humbling question: How much of the technology around you can you actually build from scratch?)
We also need to take note of how Jesus turns the slave analogy upside-down in a way that would have puzzled the people of his day. When the master in the story does return to find his slaves ready and waiting, he rewards them by switching roles. He girds his clothing for work and begins to wait on those who waited for him, turning slaves into guests of honor.
Strange, but no stranger than the idea of God coming among us in human flesh, surrendering his eternal rights and dying on a cross to save his creation from sin.
Jesus then moves into an even odder teaching, one where we are to see the Messiah as a burglar. Again, he’s emphasizing the unexpected nature of his return. Christ will break into this world in surprising ways, like a thief crawling through a window in the middle of the night.
I think something else may be intended in this analogy, too. While it is odd to think of God breaking into what he created and clearly owns, we have to remember that because of sin, he ceded this world for a time to dark powers. For example, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul writes of “the god of this world” who works to blind unbelievers from the truth.
There is much confusion in the house we all share. The true owner is coming back to drive out an evil squatter and all who are aligned with him. Until the true owner returns, it is difficult to avoid the squatter and his sinful friends. Sometimes it seems easier just to go along with them.
The question is, How do you want to be found when Christ returns? Ready yourself with Scripture, prayer and worship. Ready yourself for the one who comes at any moment.
The featured image is a 2010 sign in front of Campsbourne Baptist Church and Centre in London. Photo by Julian Osley, licensed for re-use by Wikimedia.