32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
Distinctives of Luke, the featured gospel for lectionary year C include prayer, women, marginalized (decentralized?) individuals and communities, table fellowship, the word about the neighbor—neighborology. Since the first verse of Genesis, the Holy Spirit has been prominent throughout scripture's witness, but Luke-Acts of the Apostles brings a particular fulfillment of God's reign in the Spirit. In the traditions of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, in Luke the Spirit's presence and action inverts the status quo to create a common-wealth where everyone has enough, no one has too much or too little—an Upside-Down Kingdom, in the title of Donald Kraybill's classic book.
Luke is solidly set in measurable time and space. Stories only in Luke include the absolutely essential Christmas Eve Bethlehem Nativity account with shepherds, flocks of sheep, and angels, Good Samaritan, and Prodigal Son. Resurrection evening's Emmaus Road takes us back to Luke's many accounts of Jesus' table fellowship with all comers, to the upper room of Maundy Thursday, then forward to places, people, and occasions God is preparing for us.
Intro to Today
Two-thirds through the year, after four Sundays studying Colossians, we're back to Luke. Uniquely recorded in Luke's gospel and not in the other synoptics Mark and Matthew, today's reading opens with Jesus' command not to fear and why! Jesus then announces the reign of heaven is a gift, a given, not something we need to earn or even beg God for. Grace, love, and mercy among us is not a transaction or an exchange. Gifting us brings God delight and pleasure!
Alms and Hearts
After Jesus tells us not to fear because God is near, "Sell your possessions and give alms" (verse 33a) isn't about making a guilt-propelled contribution so you'll feel better about owning more than many others have; it's a concrete action that redistributes money and property, stuff, things to help create an evened-out society. It's wonderful to donate time, skills, money, household items (clothing, cars, etc.) for a favorite or urgent cause, and though most of us love to respond generously to specific appeals, alms-giving is a way of life for Jesus people. The Greek here is eleemosynary, a word I'd completely forgotten and then had to look up to spell the English version correctly.
Unlike the contemporary Western default, "heart" in the bible is not a warm-fuzzy-sentimental-romantic-lacy-floral-bouquet. In Hebrew biology, our willful intent resides in our heart. Jesus begins with treasure (thesaurus, our familiar word for a book of word synonyms and antonyms) and then goes on to heart. Similar to legislation often transforming attitudes, what we do with our treasures of money, time, and belongings actually changes our perspectives or hearts. However, related to feeling good, you've probably seen love in action or responded to a need and then felt your physical bodily heart skip a beat or race a little?!
Ready. Lamps Lit.
Middle-eastern born and raised new testament expert, the late Ken Bailey helps contextualize verses 35–40 to help us own it. I was surprised to learn the wedding party almost definitely was in a different section of the master's house, rather than elsewhere in the 'hood or a more distant location. You may have seen pictures or the real thing of those small clay lamps they used? The flame wouldn't last long; you needed to stay alert so it would't go out and so the lamp would stay upright.
Because if the servants are ready?
Banquets and Bounty
In John 2:1-11, Jesus' first act of public ministry (IPO/initial public offering) is a wedding party.
Early in Luke when Mary finds out she's pregnant, Mary sings the prayer of praise we call the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord; God has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…" [Luke 1:46-55]. Based upon Hannah's words [1 Samuel 2:1-10] and promises of scripture she'd likely memorized from a lifetime of hearing, Mary announces the birth of her baby will mean prominent humans losing their positions of arbitrary, coercive power; it will lead to sidelined "little people" getting enough all-around bounty – food, shelter, community – to live their Best Lives. Jesus' IPO in Luke also announces justice and plenty for all—the arrival of jubilee [Luke 4:16-21]. Sidenote: we're talking distributive justice in terms of who gets what, when, and how as well as the retributive justice of a day in court that holds perpetrators accountable and compensates victims.
Those who wait for the master will recline as he serves them! Reclining while dining was a posture for the wealthy who didn't need to be constantly ready in case of danger or a summons to work. These slaves were willing to work, but Ken Bailey suggests as the least skilled or experienced, they probably wouldn't be asked to serve at a wedding.
Regarding danger, you may remember instructions in Exodus 12:11 to eat the seder in haste ready to go with "a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand." Since that first fast food seder on the way out of Egyptian slavery, Jews now recline to enjoy the passover seder because they are free people who don't need to constantly look out for enemies.
The master as deacon (the Greek "servant" word) serving his slaves ("slaves" in Greek, though scripture tends to use servant and slave interchangeably) is very within Luke's themes of feasting and dining togetherness; it signals the Magnificat's economic / social leveling with its reversal of conventional roles to form a world that inverts the expected. It coincides with Jesus identifying himself in the image of the servant God as "one who serves."
Do we expect God or one of God's messengers to stop by with a solution to our worries, or with a party?
Bringing it Together
This weeks reading starts with, "Do not fear, little flock (flock of birds? flock of sheep?), it is the Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom." Don't be afraid.
By the end of the reading we've met a householder so generous he doesn't invite everyone (y'all y'all come) to the extravagant party—he takes the party to them and serves everyone himself. "Truly I tell you, the master will fasten up his belt and have the slaves recline to eat, and he will come and serve them."
What a picture of the God who enjoys gifting us with life-giving water from the rock, free lunches from the sky, community that considers everyone a neighbor. I love the idea of trying to duplicate this event, especially with so many immigrants in this area as well as across the country. But currently newcomers from other countries, and a whole lot of people who've been here a very long time that Covid has displaced.
This master's gracious generosity isn't an occasional special event. It's his lifestyle and God calls us to the same outrageous hospitality.
How about us? How can we follow the example of the divine universe owner and serve our neighbors? Equally, let's not neglect our own already in-house family and church communities?!