Gospel: Luke 12:35-40
Are you anxious about the fall? How does that anticipation change your outlook on the summer?
Seasons change. And our plans try to anticipate that change. Parents buy school clothes and supplies for the coming year. Children dread the loss of vacation time. Business people make plans for the year end holidays. Farmers look forward to the fall harvest. We all look ahead, to plan, anticipate. It's part of our culture and our being.
The theme of the end times might seem out of place in the lazy days of summer. As church people, we have this theme preached to us in late November and early December, when we celebrate Christ the King and the first Sundays in Advent. Nonetheless, this reading shakes us out of our doldrums, like the little voice in our heads that remind us fall is coming. Just as we anticipate the autumn, we anticipate the coming of the Lord!
Jesus told his followers:
35 Dress for quick action! Have your lights ready! 36 Be like servants waiting for their master. When he returns home from a wedding reception and knocks on the door, the servants will open up right away. 37 Those servant whom the master finds awake when he returns will really be happy. Listen! The master will dress like a waiter, seat the servants, stand alongside, and serve them. 38 If the master comes in the middle of the night or before dawn and finds them awake, those servants are really happy! 39 Certainly you're aware that if a homeowner knew when a thief would come, he would not let the criminal break in. 40 So, be prepared like them! You don't know when the Son of Man will come!
With the images of the homeowner and the servants, Jesus addressed a core theme of his message: anticipate the end times.
Jesus said to his disciples:
35 Let your hips be belted and your lamps burning. 36 You are (to be) like men waiting for their master, when he might return from the wedding feast, so that, having come and having knocked, they may open (the door) for him right away. 37 Blessed are those servants whom, having come, the master finds awake. Amen, I say to you, he will belt himself (like a servant), have them recline (at table), and, having come alongside, will serve them. 38 If he might come in the second or third watch and find (them) so, blessed are those (servants). 39 You must know this! If the homeowner had known at what hour the thief would come, he would not let (the sun baked walls of) his house to be dug through. 40 You be prepared! You do not know at what hour the Son of Man comes!
12:35 "hips be belted" is the same as "loins be girded." To prepare for fast action, the long outer garment would be pulled up and tied off. Dressed such, the subject could run freely. This expression was derived from Exodus 12:11, where the people were dressed for a quick exit after the Passover meal. With the addition of the lamps, fast action was expected at night.
12:37-38 "blessed are" Jesus used this beatitude form for the watchful disciple.
12:37 The master and the servants exchange places. The master dresses as a servant and waits on the disciples.
12:38 "second or third watch" Guard details were either three or four hours each (depending upon the cultural context). Second watch was the middle of the night. Third watch was either early morning, or just before dawn.
12:39 "he would not let (the sun-baked walls of) his house to be dug through." The outer walls of household compounds were constructed out of mud. Like adobe, layer upon layer was applied to create bulk. Hence, thieves could simply dig through to break in.
In this short version of the gospel from Luke, Jesus addressed the expectations of the Christian community about the end of the world. Be ready!
Jesus began the discourse with two traditional images for action: girded loins and lamps light [12:35]. Girded loins (as the note above explained) prepared one for running. Lamps light referred to movement at night. Taken together, the images painted quick, nighttime travel. In the context of Luke 12, the night referred to the trials (the dark times) before the Final Judgement. In other words, the Christian community were to be prepared for fast action, in spite of persecution.
Jesus then used two parables for anticipation: the waiting servants [12:36-38] and the watchful homeowner [12:39]. The parable of waiting servants had two additional images that referred to the heavenly feast. First, the servants waited for the master to return from the wedding banquet. Such a feast had overtones of the Kingdom, when God would dine with his people (see Luke 5:34 and 14:16-24). Second, the master would return to serve the servants a great feast! (The leader as servant model was standard in the Christian movement. After all, Jesus did wash the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper in John 13:1-20.) Notice, this scenario matched Luke's world view. After his resurrection, Jesus rose into glory at the Ascension (Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-10). This was his wedding feast (shades of Revelations 19:6). The early Christian community expected his return at any moment as King and Great Judge. Then, he would reward the faithful (i.e., he would serve the servants). The heavenly wedding feast and the future feast of the Kingdom were glimpsed in the Eucharist, where the Lord is fully present and received by the faithful, but not as yet clearly seen. In this parable, Luke telegraphed the ideal attitude of those who gathered for fellowship on the Lord's Day: celebrate his presence (the heavenly banquet) and actively await for his coming (the Kingdom feast) by serving each other. Those who celebrated this way were truly blessed!
The watchful homeowner shifted the focus of the community. No longer were sights on the Lord. No, they gazed upon the enemy, the marauding Evil One! Satan came to borough his way into the community and steal away as many souls as he could. Hence, the community needed to look after its own against the temptations of immoral and amoral behavior.
Jesus capped these few versed with an admonition. Be ready! You don't know when the Son of Man will come. We still don't know. But we are forewarned.
Catechism Theme: Summary of the End Times (CCC 680-682, 1016-1017)
Christ call us to anticipate his return. While we might not have fervor the early Christians had, we are to still look forward to his arrival. At the end of the world, Jesus will return to judge everyone according to their actions and their faith. Then, good will definitely triumph over evil. Until that time, we represent Christ to others by our actions and our faith. Our example, then becomes part of our anticipation. (680, 681, 682)
Why do we look for Christ to return? There are many reasons. One would be our devotion to him. Another would be our return to earth after death in the "resurrection of the dead." As Christians, we believe not only in life after death, we also believe that God will reunite our souls and bodies together at the end of time. At the resurrection of the body, we will have a body like Christ's, a "spiritual body." (1016, 1017)
Have you ever reflected on Second Coming? What insights have you had? How does the belief in the Second Coming change your outlook on the future? Your actions today?
Why study the coming of the Lord now? Actually, we celebrate the his return every time we break bread with him in the Eucharist. We taste him now. But we will realize him in his fullness at the end of time. So, in the Eucharist, we have a "partially realized eschatology."
In these brief parables, Luke understood the relationship between the weekly fellowship and the coming of the Lord. The next time we celebrate Eucharist, let us remember we receive what we hope for, we touch what we yearn for. The presence of the Jesus as Lord over all!
Prepare for Eucharist this Sunday in prayer. Reflect on the Lord's presence in the sacrament and at the end of time. Connect the two in your longing for Jesus.