SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:32-40
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VERSES 32-48: THE CONTEXT
These verses are part of a larger section of Jesus' warnings and exhortations (12:1 – 13:9). 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.
• The third, about a faithful and an unfaithful slave (vv. 41-48), promises blessing to the person who is at work when the master returns –– but judgment on the person who "didn't prepare, nor do what he wanted."
VERSES 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, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (v. 32a). Just as we need not be anxious about our daily bread, so we also need not be anxious about our kingdom inheritance.
"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).
"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.
"Make for yourselves purses which don't grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn't fail" (v. 33b). Since the giving of alms generates treasure in heaven, 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).
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.
"a treasure in the heavens that doesn't fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys" (v. 33c). Today there are a thousand corrupters of earthly treasure –– thieves, stock market fluctuations, currency fluctuations, inflation, runaway taxes, failed IPOs, the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen, litigation, natural disasters, and obsolescence.
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v. 34). The world tells us to find something we love and to use our money for it. That approach leads to wild excesses. Jesus offers an alternative, telling us to give alms and assuring us that our hearts will follow our gifts.
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VERSES 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 (Exodus 12:11).
"and your lamps burning" (v 35b). Oil lamps require constant attention. Wicks must be trimmed and oil replenished. Even a well-maintained lamp takes time to light.
"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. Every minute counts in a crisis.
"Blessed are those servants, 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" (v. 37). 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.
"They will be blessed (makarioi) if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so" (v. 38). Jesus is talking about the master coming in the middle of the night after people have gone to bed. The master's coming will reveal the slaves to be ready or not ready. Those who are ready will be blessed (Greek: makarioi –– the same word used in the Beatitudes).
VERSES 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."
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? "Of course, the householder cannot stay awake all the time…. But readiness is possible, for it consists of continuing faithfulness at one's duties" (Craddock, Interpretation, 165).
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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Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV––Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Farris, Stephen, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Knox, John, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Horn, James G., Lectionary Bible Studies, "The Year of Luke," Pentecost 1, Study Book, (Augsburg-Fortress, 1976)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Juel, Donald H. and Buttrick, David, Proclamation 2: Pentecost 2, Series C
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 9:21 –– 18:34, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Rohr, Richard, The Good News According to Luke (NY: Crossroad, 1997)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
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