Luke 12: 35 – 48 Watchfulness
‘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 make 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 towards 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’
Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’
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? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, “My master is taking a long time in coming,” and he them begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 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 will assign him a place with the unbelievers.
‘The servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 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.
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The first thing to realise about this passage is that Jesus is speaking in parables.
A good servant is likened to one who waits up all night, in his uniform, with his lamp lit, so that however late the master arrives from a wedding banquet he will have the door opened promptly by someone who is all ready to serve him. Such a servant is praised.
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.
If the master does this for his good servants, then he is treating them as though they were family rather than just servants.
But this is a parable. What does it mean in practice?
I think it means we need to be trying to do God’s will at all times; at church, at work, while shopping, at the hairdresser (remember not to gossip about others!), even in the middle of the night if we’re woken by a phone call at 2 a.m. and it’s a neighbour whose car has broken down and who needs rescuing.
It means aligning ourselves as closely as we can to God’s will. It means being attentive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.
If we want to do God’s will at all times, if we sincerely try to obey Jesus, if we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God, then we are children of God.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:12)
If we are children of God, we are members of his family, exactly as this parable implies.
However, the encouragement comes with a warning:
‘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’
It’s several verses ago, but the scene for this teaching was set in Luke 11:53 – 12:1. Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. He started his teaching by warning his disciples against hypocrisy.
The warning that the Son of Man will come when we don’t expect him is likewise a warning against hypocrisy. Doing the will of God means doing it all the time. We shouldn’t consciously do things that contravene God’s will. If we do, can we really say we are led by the Spirit of God?
When Peter questions Jesus as to whether this teaching is just for the disciples, or whether it also applies to the crowd, Jesus seems to make a distinction between the two groups. Those who have a leadership role will be expected to carry out that service faithfully. But such a role gives more scope for disobedience. If a leader abuses his position and exploits his fellow servants his punishment will be severe. Even if he is merely lazy, he can expect ‘many blows’. Those who are ignorant of God’s will, on the other hand, will receive ‘few blows’, and by this, I take it that Jesus was referring to the members of the crowd rather than his disciples
I find this question of punishment a difficult one. Certainly, God has the authority to punish, but why would he do so? It seems to go against other expectations we have of God. We are asked to trust him; but do we trust someone who threatens us with punishment? What sort of world do you get when fear is the driver?
I can understand from a human point of view that a household where an overseer abuses junior staff needs to be reformed. But the point to be addressed is surely the abuse of the junior staff rather than the punishment of the overbearing overseer?
For the present, I must just ask Jesus to forgive my doubts and questionings, and help me to understand what he wants.
I’m sorry that I don’t understand (and, to be honest, I don’t like) what you are teaching here about punishment. Please help me to understand how you can be both a loving and a vengeful God. Please help me to understand how this teaching aligns with your revelation that it is love that can change the world.
In Jesus’ name, Amen