Jesus now heightens the force of his admonitions that the disciples should consider life less in terms of material security, more in terms of faithfulness to the kingdom of God. (What he says in this section of Luke’s text is uniquely contextualized here, though the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants is found in Matt. 24:42-51.)
The ambience of this discourse is clearly eschatological; the call to “gird up” the loins and have lights burning suggests a time of immediate action and the need to be ready for it (Luke 12:35).
Jesus counsels his followers to be like faithful servants of a lord who goes away to a wedding feast (these were multiday celebrations from which the time of return would be indeterminate). The returning lord could come home in the dead of night, but if the servants are ready to serve and the house is lit in anticipation, they will be blessed (12:36-38).
The call to watchfulness is strengthened by a second example: preparation against thieves breaking in, also in the dead of night (12:39). The Lord makes an analogy to both: “Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (12:40).
Nothing here is obscure, and down through the centuries, reading into the role of the servants of the departed lord the apostolic stewardship of servants of the Lord, Lukan commentators have typically applied the text to themselves.
Thus Cyril: “The girding of our loins signifies the readiness of the mind to work in anything praiseworthy. . . the lamp represents the wakefulness of the mind and intellectual cheerfulness” (1983: Homily 92); thus also Augustine, less inclined to intellectual laxity but with his own sense of frailty: “What does it mean to gird the loins? It is to restrain lustful appetite. This is about self-control. To have lamps burning is to shine and glow with good works. This is about justice” (On Continence 7).
But the Didache stressed the need to attentive perseverance in awaiting the second coming of Chris, seeing in the text and context of Luke 12 a warning that “a lifetime of faith will be of no advantage unless you prove to be responsive to the very end. In the final days, many false prophets and seducers will appear. Sheep will turn into wolves and love into hatred. With the increase in iniquity, people hate, persecute, and betray each other. Then the world deceiver will appear in the guise of God’s Son” (Didache 16.2-4).
Bede suggests, in another probative response to this text, that among the vices of the bad servant is diffidence, a belief that the Lord would be slow to return: “It is not numbered among the virtues of a good servant that he hoped it would come quickly, but only that he ministered faithfully.” Bede here balances our reading: perseverance is crucial, but so also is steadfast faithfulness, since none can know “that which cannot be known,” yet all can strive “to be found worthy” (quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea 3.2.463).
©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.