In one of the churches that I pastored (some years back), I was requested to do a series on “End Times,” and so I did so. One of the passages that came up for review was Luke 12:35-48.
It was amazing how much interest the series title itself generated, and there was a vigorous discussion that arose from that interest. However, a lot of that discussion didn’t connect that much with the actual exposition of the scriptures, so my series of talks fell somewhat flat. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself why that might have been. Answers on a postcard please.
Jesus spoke quite a bit about “End Times” – about his return, about a coming judgement and the wrapping up of history. But I’d like you to focus here on one question: How should I live, knowing that time is almost up?
So here’s the passage in Luke 12.
“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they tcan immediately open the door for him. 37 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 make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. 39 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. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
41 Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’
42 The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, “My master is taking a long time in coming,” and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 ‘The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12: 35-48)
The first and most obvious answer to the question (“How should I live, knowing that time is almost up?”) is: in a state of readiness. ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.’ The state of readiness has three components: you are dressed (and not sleeping); you are ready for service (and not distracted); your lamps are burning. This last metaphor speaks of being resourced, focused and intelligently aware of what is expected of you. It’s an image that Jesus used on several occasions, of servants ready for the return of the bridegroom from the wedding banquet. It was a high-priority social situation which would lead to social calamity if mishandled.
Jesus switches the metaphor abruptly: just as you don’t know when the bridegroom is going to arrive, neither do you know when a thief is going to break in. The switch has the effect of heightening both the drama of the situation and the culpability of the servant who has neglected to be in that state of readiness.
But don’t miss the point: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
In one simple sentence, Jesus debunks every single calculation of when, where and how he is to return. We are not told, and therefore we do not need to know. What we are told, is to be ready.
But this is not a passive waiting; there is an active participation in the plans of the bridegroom. And the guards who fall asleep on the job who be punished (so to speak). We wait in a state of accountability.
Peter immediately picks up on this: “ Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’”
It’s an interesting question: is this insider talk or public information? Is it for us self-important Disciples (secretly fretting about their relative place in the kingdom to come) or is it for just anyone? Apart from the fact of them being “believers” (according to v46), Jesus refuses to demarcate precisely, suggesting instead a sliding scale of culpability depending on the quality of the servant’s obedience.
He does mention the disciples, however, in a rather sly dig: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” The principle always is: you are judged according to the light you have received. Anything else would be unfair and arbitrary.
And this is how we are called to live in these troubled “End Times.” The New Testament is explicit that the “End Times” began at the Cross/Resurrection/Ascension of Jesus. Other writers bring a few more details into play, but as far as this passage goes, we are called as obedient servants to wait and to watch, in committed service, resourced and alert.