A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 12:32-40 for Proper 14C
As Jesus drew closer to Jerusalem his urgency for his followers to understand his message increased. He knew his time was short, but he also knew that their world was heading toward a great upheaval. It was becoming inevitable that there would be some kind of uprising against Rome, and that the Empire would crush it with characteristic violence and cruelty, and so Jesus’ message of God’s Reign – an Empire of a very different sort – was becoming increasingly important. From the latter part of Chapter 12 to the beginning of chapter 18 Luke takes us through an almost unbroken series of parables and teachings about God’s Reign. It’s as if Jesus is using every image and metaphor he can imagine to try and drive his message into the hearts of his disciples. And throughout this teaching the one characteristic that he repeats again and again is how unexpected God’s Reign is.
Firstly, it is unexpected in character. Immediately after comforting his followers with the promise that God has given them the kingdom, Jesus instructs them to sell their possessions, give to the poor and to “dress for service” (CEB). Human empires promise greater power, greater possessions, and greater pleasure at the hand of the servants that are given to those who have received “the kingdom”. But, in God’s Reign, once again, this picture is turned upside down. It is the recipients of the kingdom who are the servants, and they experience the benefits of God’s Reign through giving up their power, their possessions and their selfish pleasures. I can’t count how many times, as we have travelled through Luke’s Gospel, I have found myself writing and speaking these, or similar words.
But, secondly, God’s Reign is also unexpected in context. The image Jesus uses is of loyal servants who wait up, watching for the time when their master will come home, even though they don’t know what time he is expected. The call is to remain watchful, aware and ready to recognise Jesus’ presence whenever and wherever it may appear. In the context of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus words apply less to some future glorious return, than to the present time in which God’s Reign is active. The warning is for the disciples to avoid the mistake of the religious leaders, many of whom were unable to recognise the Reign of God in Jesus’ message and mission because it looked so different from their expectations. Rather, followers of Jesus are to be open hearted enough to see God’s Reign at work in contexts in which we would least expect to see it – in the poor, the broken, the marginalised, the ones who would be expected to serve us, but in whom we learn to see Jesus when we choose to serve them.
The constant call to release our addiction to money, lust and power can get tiring as we work through Luke’s Gospel. But, the invitation that constantly echoes within this call is to receive God’s Reign and the abundant life it offers. But, to do so means that we need to shift our expectations and we need to change what we are looking for. We cannot find life in the world as it is – we know this from tough personal experience. And so, we need to learn to find God’s life in the surprising people, places and practices which, from the world’s perspective, would be the last source from which we would expect it. God is pleased to give us the kingdom – if we will only release the things that keep us from it and embrace the simplicity, the service and the sacrifice that lead us to abundant, extravagant and contagious life.