Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 – Yahweh condemns Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins: injustice and oppression to the orphan and widow.
Genesis 15:1-6 – The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God. By faith Abraham obeyed. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old.
Luke 12:32-40 – Have no fear. Sell your possessions. Give alms. Be prepared like the householder and thief. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
One of the options for the first reading is Isaiah 1. Here Isaiah rails on Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah 1:10 says,
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”
After giving them a thorough chewing out for being sinful and rebellious, he clarifies himself:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
This Sunday our gospel reading picks up where last Sunday’s reading (The Parable of the Rich Fool) left off (12:32). Here is the text:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be 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. Blessed 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. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know 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, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The stewardship issue is still on the front burner. In the gospels, Jesus depicts God as an absentee landlord who is on a journey. We are stewards taking care of the ranch while the landlord is away. When he returns, what will he find? What might he expect from his stewards while he is on holiday? How should we conduct ourselves, prepare ourselves for the landowner to show up?
One cannot miss the overtones of the delayed Parousia. Luke’s community may be expecting judgment day to come any time now. We know the apostle Paul believed that Christ would come in his lifetime. These stories encourage the faithful to remain vigilant.
Last week’s message was clear. Don’t be consumed by greed. Your life is more than stuff. There is a clear, “You can’t take it with you” message here. I like to say to people, “The bad news is you can’t take it with you. The good news is you won’t be needing it.”
This week we are told that God wants to give us the kingdom. This may be a good point to emphasize that the kingdom of God is not depicted in the gospels as a place you go after you die. The kingdom of God is something that God gives us – freely. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s kingdom to come to us, not the other way around. Jarring people out of an old metaphysical paradigm might help them hear Jesus’ words freshly for the first time.
This free gift of God’s kingdom can be tied back to the first lesson (Genesis 15:1-6) in which Abraham believes God, and God counts that faith as righteousness. God’s grace is a free gift, apprehended through faith.
So if the kingdom is a free gift, given by God’s good pleasure rather than earned, how then shall we live in this interim time? Well, first of all, off load your stuff. Travel lightly. Give it to the poor. Sell it and give the money to the poor. Less is more. Instead of accumulating earthly treasures, accumulate spiritual treasures, treasures in heaven, that no one can steal. Collect the intangible things that make life worthwhile. Purses that won’t rot and that cannot be stolen. What are these intangibles? Let’s borrow from Paul in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…
Brian Stoffrefen points out the proper use of possessions [ta hyparchonta] is of special interest in Luke/Acts:
- Luke 8:3 – women provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their resources
- Luke 11:21 – When an armed, strong man, guards his castle, his property is safe.
- Luke 12:15 – Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
- Luke 12:33 – Sell 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.
- Luke 12:44 – Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
- Luke 14:33 – So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
- Luke 16:1 – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.”
- Luke 19:8 – Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
- Acts 4:32 – Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
The author of Luke/Acts cannot imagine any following of Christ that does not care for the poor and involve some sort of constant divestment from possessions.
Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paieia series, professor at Truett Theological Seminary) offers much food for thought. “Generosity is the best antidote for greed…” When Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Parsons suggests he seems to be saying, “follow the trail of the use of money and it will lead to the heart.” There is plenty to work with here for the homilist. As I mentioned last week, wave a checkbook in the air, and say, “here is the book that reveals our true priorities, maybe our true gods.”
Then our text pivots to the “be prepared” speech. Be ready to roll. Gird your loins. Mikeal Parsons invites us to imagine one in a long robe, gathering up the fabric to the waist in order to run. Are you prepared for the householder to return? Is your soul ready? Will the poor give you a good letter of recommendation?
What will the master do when he returns? Here comes the surprise in this part of the reading: When the master returns, he will have the slaves sit down and… he will serve them. He will serve them. Classic Jesus.
“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27). As usual, Jesus turns a common image on its end. Jesus hints that he himself is the householder who is returning and serving.
And here’s the rest of the surprise for his listeners, the master is already here, secretly in the form of Jesus, watching, serving. There is grace in this passage.
So if Jesus comes to serve, what should be the church’s posture be as we await the master? What should be the attitude of those who follow Christ? When you return to your routine tomorrow, regardless of the hierarchy where you work or study, what will be your attitude? What will be your attitude toward your possessions? What will be your attitude toward those with less? What will be your attitude toward those lower on the totem pole, coworkers, or first year students?