by Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources
Hebrews 11-1-3, 8-16
Our verses are part of a larger context of "Readiness for the Coming Judgment" (12:1-13:9 -- Culpepper's title). Note also that next week's text is also from this larger section. Most of my outlines of Luke have a major split in the middle of our text. However, when looking at parallel stories, verse 32ff. comes from a different source.
Concerning Possessions (12:13-34)
The Rich Farmer (12:13-21 - no parallels)
On Anxieties (12:22-31 || Mt 6:25-34)
Little Flock (12:32 - no parallels)
On Possessions (12:33-34 || Mt 6:19-21)
Concerning Preparedness and Fidelity (12:35-48)
Returning Master (12:35-38 - no parallels)
Homeowner and Burglar (12:39-40 || Mt 24:43-44)
Reliable Manager (12:41-48 || Mt 24:45-51)
This final section (vv. 41-48) emphasizes the need to feed all the slaves at the proper time (world hunger issues? -- what we should be doing while waiting?). The bad steward is selfish with the food and drink. This could tie in with the first section (last week's text) about greediness. Some may consider extending the lesson to include this emphasis about caring for others as part of our being prepared for the coming.
GOD GIVES THE KINGDOM (v. 32)
V. 32 is unique to Luke. It presents an interesting contrast to v. 31, where Jesus tells us to "keep on seeking" (present tense) God's kingdom. Here God wants to give us the kingdom. That which we are to seek, God is more than willing to give us. A whole sermon could center on this contrast: religions are entered our attempts to gain something from god -- usually through proper conduct, creeds, or cultic actions. (These are terms Robert Capon uses about religion.); Christianity is centered on receiving what God has given us. Religions emphasize human actions. Christianity emphasizes God's actions.
me phobou is present tense -- "Do not continue to be afraid." The same phrase is used when angels appear. I'm certain that Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds were afraid at the sight, but they are told, "Don't continue to be afraid." (1:13, 30, 2:10).
The theme of "fear" is found earlier in this chapter in vv. 4, 5, 7. Verse 7 has the same construction as v. 32, but in the plural. There the reason not to continue to be afraid is because we are more valuable than many sparrows.
Here we are called "little flock." Every other time this word for flock (poimnion) is used in the NT it refers to a group of believers (Acts 20:28, 29; 1 Pet 5:2, 3).
The word for "good pleasure" is used of God's feelings towards Jesus (3:3). However, as we look at what happened to Jesus, do we really want God's "good pleasure"? <g> The outcome for many of the first disciples wasn't much better. Should we assume that if God is pleased with us, our lives will get better? Does reception of God's kingdom put us at odds with worldly kingdoms?
WE GIVE TO THE NEEDY (vv. 33-34)
Vv. 33-34 return to the theme of possessions [ta hyparchonta] which were part of last week's text. The proper use of possessions is a special interest in Luke/Acts. Verses with this idiom are:
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.
In Luke, I don't think that a person could be a faithful follower of Jesus and have lots of possessions. The proper use of one's abundance is to give them away or share them (or the money received from selling them) for the common good. We also know that this communal structure did not last very long in the early church. Yet, a few years ago, I heard a pastor talk about his congregation living by the dictum: "There will be no needy among us." They have a fund from which members in need can use. The only way such a fund could exist is if the wealthier members give from their excess.
At another congregation, the pastor wondered if the money given for flowers that are thrown away might be better used. They established a "Good Samaritan Fund" to which people could donate "in honor of" or "in memory of" someone with it noted in the bulletin. Money from this fund is used to help the needy among them. They do not have flowers on the altar. When they asked the staffs about donating flowers to nursing homes and hospitals, the staffs did not want the left over altar flowers. It meant more work for the them as they had to rearrange the flowers.
Note also that in the first century, it was believed that there was a fixed and limited amount of wealth. If someone gained wealth, someone else had to loose it. They didn't believe that everyone becoming wealthier. Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) state: "Acquisition was always considered stealing" (p. 359 emphasis in original). So, if the poor were to escape their poverty, it would have to come from the wealthy sharing their possessions. In essence, the wealthy would have to become poorer if the poor were to gain some wealth.
In v. 32, God is presented as a giver. In v. 33, we are commanded to be givers -- giving to the poor. This same word occurs later in this section. In v. 42 it is used of the managers who give food to the servants at the proper time. In v. 48b, which concludes this section, there is general statement: "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."
The idea that we are to be givers as our heavenly Father is a giver led me to use the title: "God's Designer Genes" to talk about this giving trait that children of God should inherit.
Our text begins with God giving us much -- the kingdom! We then move to what God requires of us -- to give alms. That is, give to the poor. The word translated "alms" in the NRSV is eleemosyne, which comes from a word meaning "mercy." So this is more than just throwing a donation to the poor, it stems from being merciful to those in need. The same construction is used in 11:41 where the giving of alms needs to come from within a person.
The word for "purse" (ballantion) is found only in Luke (10:4; 12:33; 22:35, 36). It refers specifically to a bag for carrying money. The grammar seems to be a type of parallelism:
"Make for yourselves purses that do not become old."
"[Make for yourselves] a treasure that is unfailing in the heavens."
I note that "purses" is plural" and "treasure" is singular. We each may have our purses, but there is one treasure that is shared by all.
The phrase "treasure in heaven" is also used in Luke 18:22 in reference to the rich man. This man had originally asked about "inheriting eternal life." Jesus gives him instructions about having "treasure in heaven." He is to sell all that he owns and distribute the money to the poor. This sounds quite similar to our verse.
It also seems quite ironic that we build up a treasure in heaven by giving away money on earth! That isn't the way we usually think of creating a treasure for ourselves.
The two other uses of thesauros in Luke are in 6:45: "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks." Here "treasure" seems to refer to motivations, an inner attitude, more than a collection of stuff. Could the treasure in heaven be related to God's love for the world? A concern for needy people that results in generous acts of mercy for them? Is that the type of gene God has designed for us?
Fred Craddock [Luke, Interpretation Commentary] makes this important observation on v. 34: "It is striking that churches timid and tentative on the subject of money have taught that where the heart is, there the treasure will be. After reaping a harvest of hearts but very little support for the budget, some have come to acknowledge the realism of Jesus words: where possessions are, there the heart will be" [p. 164]
Should congregations "shamelessly" (a word from Luke 11:8) go after its members' "treasures" and ask for money? The promise given in this verse is if we get their treasure, we will get their hearts; rather than the other way around.
PREPARED FOR THE COMINGS (vv. 35-40)
The Greek of verse 35 reads: "the loins having been girded," but this phrase means nothing to us non-loin wearing people. Originally it meant tying up around the waist the lower parts of one's robe so as to be ready to run. How do we express this phrase in English so that it is faithful to the original and makes sense to 21st century Americans? That's a problem that translators face. NRSV has "be dressed for action;" NIV: "be dressed ready for service;" CEV: "Be ready." These are all ways of understanding and "translating" into understandable English the phrase: "girding one's loins." I think that a similar problem faces the preacher each week. How do we "translate" the meaning of the ancient text into words and images that make sense to our hearers? Eugene Peterson in The Message has "Keep your shirts on." However it is paraphrased, it means to be prepared for action.
The picture changes in v. 37. There it is the master, not the servants, who "is girded" ("fastens his belt" in NRSV; "dress himself to serve" in NIV; "get ready" in CEV; "put on an apron" in The Message) and serves the slaves. I doubt that this was a typical picture of 1st century master/slave relationships. I would guess that a more representative picture is in Luke 17:7-10, where the slave, having just come in from the field, still has to serve the master and shouldn't expect any thinks for doing what he's supposed to do. Related to what I said in the previous paragraph, how well does the master/slave image work for contemporary Americans? I don't even think that the relationship that existed between masters and slaves in 19th century America was quite the same as in first century Palestine.
There is another reason why I think that this picture of the master serving the slave is a difficult picture for us to capture. It turns our normal picture of religion upside down. The Christian faith means being served by God and receiving gifts from God! In contrast, I think that most religions (even Christianity as a religion) stress the followers' duty to serve the god; to offer something to the god (see comments above). I had a seminary professor who objected to the dismissal of the LBW. He suggested that it should be: "Go in peace. The Lord serves you." What we frequently discover in "serving" other people, is that God comes to us through the other and serves us.
There is also the sense that what Jesus commands, "be girded" (v. 35), he does for us, "he will gird himself" (v. 37). Serve others. I will serve you.
A word that occurs in every verse from 36-40 is "coming" (erchomai). In vv. 36-38, the slaves need to be "awake" and ready to respond to their master's coming whenever it might be. In v. 39 the home-owner needs to be prepared for the thief's coming whenever it might be. In v. 40 we need to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man whenever it might be.
In regards to the thief: Earlier, in v. 33, we were told to have purses and treasures in heaven where no thief comes near. Heaven is a "house" that the thief cannot break into.
Note: the Greek for "coming" in both 39, 40 is present tense, not future! This is also true in the phrase from Revelation, "who was, who is, and who is coming". It may have a future sense, but it may also have a continually present sense -- being prepared for the one who is always coming.
I don't know if the following actually happened, but it could have. Soon after the minister started the sermon, he said, "Excuse me. I'll be right back." and left the pulpit for a time. When he returned, he talked about the "waiting" time. They knew he was "coming," but not exactly when. For a brief time, the congregation experienced the sense of expectant waiting.
What does it mean "to be ready" or "prepared"? In terms of a thief, we can install locks and burglar alarms. In terms of the slaves, they can keep their work clothes on (rather than pajamas?) and stay alert for their master's return. What about in terms of the coming of the Son of Man? How do we prepare for Jesus' comings? We need to remember that the Jesus who is coming in the future is also the Jesus who came in the past and who comes in the present as we gather in his name, proclaim the gospel, and share the sacrament. Those who experience Jesus' presence now through the means of grace shouldn't be fearful of Jesus' coming in the future.
Some other instances of hetoimazo/hetoimos = "to prepare," "prepared" in Luke might suggest some ideas. The noun occurs only twice besides our text:
14:17 the parable of the great feast where servants are sent to the guests saying: "Come, for everything is ready now." "Being ready" for the guests means being willing to share in what had been prepared for them. Similar invitations are often given to invite the congregation to the Lord's Supper: "Come, for all things are ready."
22:33 Peter professes that he is ready to go to prison and to death with Jesus -- we know that he was exaggerating a bit at that point in his life. Are we ever fully prepared for the coming of Jesus and his demands on our lives? Are we ever fully prepared to receive the free gift of the kingdom that God gives us? Like Peter in the upper room (in John), we may object to having Jesus stoop down and serve us like a slave.
The verb occurs 14 times.
It is used of John the Baptist (1:17, 76; 3:4) who prepares the way for Jesus' coming. His preparation is centered on repentance, baptism, forgiveness, and amendment of life. Is this a model for our preparedness for Jesus coming?
It is used of the disciples obeying Jesus' command to prepare the upper room for the Passover meal / Last Supper (22:8, 9, 12, 13). If Holy Communion is a "coming" of Jesus -- especially as we understand it as Jesus coming to serve us -- I think it relates well to our text. How do we prepare for this sacramental coming?
Part of our preparation is "nuts and bolts" (more properly "bread and wine"). It is quite helpful to have the elements prepared before the service begins. (It has occasionally happened where I serve that the elements have not been prepared before the service -- fortunately someone has noticed the lack and either "zapped" some frozen bread or went to the grocery story down the road so that Christ might come to us in the bread and wine.)
Part of our preparation is self-examination -- hearing again John's cry of repentance, to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.
Part of our preparation is humility -- letting ourselves be served by God -- recognizing that we are "seeing God's salvation, which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples" (2:31).
Other references of the word in Luke:
9:52 -- messengers enter a Samaritan village to make preparations for Jesus' coming to that city. They were unsuccessful. The people would not receive him, because "his face was set towards Jerusalem." Does this mean that he wouldn't come to them on their terms?
12:20 -- from last week's lesson where what the rich man had prepared were of no benefit to him at his death. Perhaps we can do a lot of religious busy-work that might make us happy, but really doesn't matter that much to God or the needy.
12:47 -- the punishment for a slave who knows what the master wants but is not prepared to do what is wanted.
17:8 -- a servant who, after working in the field all day, still has to prepare supper for the master.
23:56; 24:1 -- the preparation of spices for Jesus' burial.
It may be from my own bias, but it would seem that preparing for the coming of the Son of man is tied up with his present coming to us and serving us in Word and Sacraments. Being prepared for his future coming, means receiving his comings to us through these means in the present. In a sense, being prepared is to let him prepare us for the coming. Refusing these means may be like the Samaritans or the slave in 9:52 and 12:47: Unwilling to receive Jesus on his terms; and knowing what the master wants -- "do this" -- and yet not preparing one's self -- taking the time -- to do it. Being unprepared could be like the homeowner -- the "coming" will be like that of a thief with destructive consequences.
Slaves should know how to be prepared for their master's unexpected coming. Homeowners should know how to be prepared for a thief's unexpected coming. Have we learned how to be prepared for the Son of Man's unexpected coming? Part of being prepared is to expect it. The slaves work as if the master were already present. The homeowner anticipates a thief and secures his house and treasures. Christians know Jesus is coming and we are to live as if he were already here: not building up wealth for ourselves, but giving alms (showing mercy), which builds up a treasure in heaven that will not be taken from us.
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