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Luke 12:32-40 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 12:32-48. THE CONTEXT
These verses are part of a larger section of Jesus’ warnings and exhortations (12:1 – 13:9). Last week’s Gospel lesson (12:13-21) warned against storing up treasure for oneself without being rich toward God. Jesus then counseled against worry, assuring the disciples of God’s love and providence (22-34).
This section (vv. 32-48) promises hope, and would therefore be of special interest to Luke’s church, which is suffering persecution. It would also be of special interest to a church that has been looking for the Parousia (Second Coming) for many years and is beginning to wonder when it will take place.
Verses 35-48 are comprised of three parables:
• The first, about a wedding banquet (vv. 35-38), promises blessings to the watchful.
• The second, about the coming of a thief (vv. 39-40), warns of judgment of those who are not ready.
• The third, about a faithful and an unfaithful slave (vv. 41-48—not part of our Gospel lesson), promises blessing to the person who is at work when the master returns—but promises judgment on the person“who knew his lord’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do what he wanted.”
LUKE 12:32-34. DON’T BE AFRAID, LITTLE FLOCK
32“Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33Sell that which you have, and give gifts (Greek: eleemosunen) to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
“Don’t be afraid” (v. 32a). In verses 22-31, Jesus tells the disciples not to worry or be anxious, because the Father knows our needs (v. 30). If we seek first the Father’s kingdom, he will give us both the kingdom and everything else that we need (v. 31).
“little flock” (v. 32b). “Behind the word ‘flock’ is a reference to Israel (Ezek. 34:11-24) and a reminder that God is the shepherd of the faithful. The ‘little flock’ in this case represents the disciples and through them the early Christian church” (Farris, 384).
“for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (v. 32c). Jesus says that it gives the Father pleasure to give us the kingdom. Just as we need not be anxious about our daily bread, so we also need not be anxious about our kingdom inheritance.
“Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy” (v. 33a). Luke, both in this Gospel and in the book of Acts, emphasizes the virtue of charity (Luke 3:10-11; 6:38; 10:33-35; 11:41; 19:8; Acts 6:1-4; 10:4; 11:29-30; 20:35). He also tells how the first disciples exchanged private ownership for common ownership (Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-37). It is a radically faith-filled approach to money and property.
None of this makes sense apart from faith that God has already established the kingdom and has invited us to begin life under Kingdom Rules. The world says, “Grab all the gusto you can get”—and “Look out for Number One”—and “The person who dies with the most toys wins.” Jesus stands the world’s wisdom on its head when he says, “Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy.”
“Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail” (v. 33b). When Jesus tells the disciples to sell their possessions and to give alms, he has in mind something beyond thrift-shop charity—something beyond giving only that which we no longer need. Since the giving of alms generates treasure in heaven, it makes no sense to limit almsgiving to that which is of little value. The wise person will give generously. The gift of earthly things (which are subject to theft and decay) builds an investment in heaven (a purse that does not wear out). The gift of things that will prove only temporarily useful to us produces credits from which we can draw throughout eternity.
There is a tension here between salvation by grace and salvation by works. We must be careful not to make it sound as if charitable work can win us salvation irrespective of our relationship to Christ, but we must also be careful not to discount the rewards that Jesus promises for almsgiving.
“where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys” (v. 33c). Today there are a thousand corrupters of earthly treasure. Thieves are still a concern, but the greatest threats to wealth are stock market fluctuations, currency fluctuations, inflation, runaway taxes, failed IPOs, the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, litigation, natural disasters, and obsolescence. And then, of course, there is global warming, fouled air, and the prospect of being buried in one’s own garbage. Since 9/11, we have begun to recognize the danger of chemical, biological, or nuclear terrorism. Compared with such truly disastrous possibilities, thieves and moths are a minor irritant. Nevertheless, they serve to remind us of the corruptibility of our possessions.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v. 34). The world believes the opposite. The world tells us to find something we love and to use our money for it. That approach leads to wild excesses by people seeking fulfillment through expensive possessions or adventures. At its worst, it leads to self-destructive behavior, such as drug addiction. Jesus offers an alternative, telling us to give alms and assuring us that our hearts will follow our gifts. That is a principle that Christians have proven time and time again. People who help other people find themselves caring about the people whom they help—and enjoying the meaningful life that results from meeting real needs.
Jesus only recently told the parable of the rich fool (vv. 13-21), concluding that parable with this warning:“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (v. 21). In verses 32-34, Jesus shows us that one way of becoming “rich toward God” is to give alms to the needy.
LUKE 12:35-40. LIVE IN READINESS FOR CHRIST’S RETURN
While these two small parables do not specifically mention Christ’s return, that is their focus. Those who are ready will be rewarded, and those who are not ready will suffer judgment.
The early church looked forward to Christ’s coming with great anticipation. However, by the time this Gospel was written, Christians were beginning to understand that Christ’s coming was being delayed beyond their expectation. Today, looking back on two thousand years of Christian history, we find it difficult to expect that Christ will come during our lifetime. We have largely left preaching about the Second Coming to fundamentalists, who often embarrass us with their treatment of the subject. However, the Second Coming is an important subject for preaching, because people need to know that the world is not moving aimlessly through time, but that God has a plan that concludes with judgment and redemption.
Luke deals with the themes of watchfulness and falling asleep elsewhere. At the Transfiguration, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him” (9:32). They were rewarded for their faithfulness. At the Mount of Olives, Jesus “came to the disciples, and found them sleeping because of grief, and said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation'” (22:45-46).
LUKE 12:35-38. BE DRESSED, AND HAVE YOUR LAMPS LIT
35“Let your waist be dressed (Greek: estosan humon hai osphues periezosmenai—Let your loins be girded) and your lamps burning. 36Be like men watching for their lord (Greek: kurios—Lord), when he returns from the marriage feast; that, when he comes and knocks, they may immediately open to him. 37Blessed are those servants (Greek: douloi), whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them. 38They will be blessed(Greek: makarioi) if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so.“
“Let your waist be dressed” (v. 35a). A literal translation is “Let your loins be girded.” It pictures a person with loose robe cinched up to permit easy movement. It recalls the instructions for the original Passover meal: “This is how you shall eat it: with your belt on your waist, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11). The Passover instructions were to prepare people for quick departure from Egypt once the right moment came. Jesus’ instructions are to prepare disciples for Jesus’ return, which will take place at an unexpected time.
“and your lamps burning” (v 35b). Oil lamps require constant attention. Wicks must be trimmed and oil replenished. A poorly maintained lamp will not light when you need it. Even a well-maintained lamp takes time to light—unsatisfactory in a real emergency.
“Be like men watching for their lord, when he returns from the marriage feast; that, when he comes and knocks, they may immediately open to him” (v. 36). Readiness is a matter of life and death in many circumstances. Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, soldiers, and physicians need to be ready, the right tools at hand, when the time for action arises. Every minute counts in a crisis. The firefighter who is delayed five minutes might find that the fire has spread out of control. The physician who is delayed five minutes might find that the patient has died. People in crisis-oriented professions train regularly so that they can respond effectively when the crisis comes. Being prepared for Christ’s coming has that same life-and-death urgency.
“Blessed are those servants (douloi—from doulos), whom the lord (kurios—Lord) will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them” (v. 37). Jesus isn’t suggesting that slavery as we know it is acceptable. He uses this word, doulos, to speak of our service to God. To be a doulos is to do the will of the master. In this case, the douloi are Christ’s disciples and the master (kurios—Lord) is Jesus. Paul speaks of himself as a doulos of Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1), and he speaks of ordinary Christians as doulon of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24).
Jesus’ parables appear at first to be innocent stories using commonplace events to make an obvious point, but then they suddenly take an unexpected direction—a parabolic direction:
• And so it is a Samaritan who proves to be neighbor to the wounded man (10:36-37).
• And so a rich man says, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years”, but God says, “You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you.” (12:19-20).
• Now, in this parable of the watchful slaves, we expect the slaves to seat the master (kurios—Lord) at the table so they can serve him dinner. Instead, Jesus says that the master will invite the slaves to sit at the table while he serves them. This refers to the eschatological (end of time) banquet that the disciples will enjoy when Jesus returns. In the Incarnation, “For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Service is also the purpose of Christ’s coming again. “By serving those who are slaves, the returning lord esteems the humble, overturning socio-religious and socio-political norms, just as Mary’s Song had foretold (1:52b)” (Green, 499). That is cause both for rejoicing and for readiness.
“They will be blessed if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so” (v. 38). The Romans count four watches—the second and third watches spanning 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. Jews count three watches—the second and third watches spanning 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Either way Jesus is talking about the master coming in the middle of the night after people have gone to bed—an unexpected hour when drowsy people will find further preparation impossible. The master’s coming will reveal the slaves to be ready or not ready—prepared or unprepared. Jesus promises that those who are ready will be blessed (makarioi—the same word used in the Beatitudes).
LUKE 12:39-40. WHEN YOU DON’T EXPECT HIM
39“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not allowed his house to be broken into.40Therefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you don’t expect him.”
The New Testament teaches us that Christ’s Second Coming is an important part of God’s plan for our world, so it is an important element in our Christian faith.
Much effort has gone into predicting the time of Christ’s return, but such efforts are always fruitless. The Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour, like a thief at night.
The question, then, is how can we prepare for the Lord’s coming? We can prepare, not by being always awake, but by being always faithful.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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