Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 5. The Watching Servants
Luke 12:35-40 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand 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, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Context: We have said that so often the context for a parable is all important in that it reveals the purpose in the context of an overall teaching. This one is not so definite. In the previous paragraph Jesus had declared, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom,” (v.32) but the kingdom is all about working out the rule of God, about allowing Him to rule over the earth – often through His people who serve him. Hence this set of images begins with, “Be dressed ready for service.”
The Contents of the Parable
- there is obviously a master of a big house who has gone to a wedding banquet.
- the focus, however, is on his servants back at his house.
- when he arrives back he will knock and expect them to unbar the door and let him in.
- this requires the servants to be awake and alert, looking for his return.
Strange Elements: Those are the basics of the story but then it takes a strange turn: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (v.37) I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed that before. This master, in the story, will reward his alert and attentive servants by becoming a servant to them as they recline at table and eat. Wow! It is because this seems so unusual that Jesus began that bit with, “Truly I tell you.” (Older versions, “Verily, verily I say to you”). He makes that emphasis.
Even More: We might think that this is just a call to be ready at all times but the end of it is even more strange: But understand 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. Wow again! Note the past tense verbs – ‘had known’ and ‘not have let’. This had no part in the earlier story but puts an edge on that earlier story. The Message version makes it clear: “You know that if the house owner had known what night the burglar was coming, he wouldn’t have stayed out late and left the place unlocked. So don’t you be slovenly and careless. Just when you don’t expect him, the Son of Man will show up.” It makes some assumptions but I think they are good ones. However that last verse makes clear Jesus’ point: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (v.40 NIV) Jesus has taken the main parable about being alert and then added a rider that shows that everything he is saying, is about being ready for when he returns a second time.
Uncertainty: The main thing that verse 40 adds is uncertainty about when Jesus will return. In that big chapter about the future, Matt 24, Jesus declared about his return, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt 24:36) It is one of the strangest things in the New Testament that they all expected that return to be within their lifetime. It is clear from the writings of the apostle Paul that he expected the end to come soon, yet here we are two millennia later and he still hasn’t returned. Does that make the assertion that the New Testament is the inspired word of God, false? No, God inspired the writers to write what happened and what they believed at the time. The fact that the Father has hidden that time from us is His choice and Jesus said that. He gave indicators in the following verses in Mt 24 what the time would be like, but that is it.
And So? And so the message of the parable is clear: we are to see ourselves as Jesus’ servants and although at the present time he dwells in heaven, there will be a point of time in time-space history when he will return to this earth and it is important that we remain alert as we wait and watch for that. Later in this Gospel we will see Jesus ask the question of that time, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Why does he need to ask that question? Because of what he had said earlier: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 24:12,13) The end times will be difficult and so love for God will grow cold in many and therefore you and I need to be especially alert. We have been warned, so let’s not give way to the pressures of modern life that would seek to ease us away from the Lord. Remain awake, stay alert, remain full of faith and be faithful. Amen? Amen!