Illness makes my thoughts on this week’s lectionary Gospel rather late. Next week may be a week off for my Monday Meditations. Not sure how the next few days will pan out — but I’ll be back.
This week’s Gospel has the appearance of answering a niggling question from last week. Maybe it does, but much of the answer was actually in the material the lectionary skipped — the lovely passage where we are called to consider the thoughtless glory of the lilies and not worry about our material lives so much.
But what we have is Luke 12:32-40. It is, in my opinion, three distinct teachings. The first comes separately, then the second and third are woven together.
1. Radical Generosity.
In 32-34 Jesus sort of wraps up the message of lovely trust he started on with the lilies.
But there’s a bit of a twist.
Do not be afraid, little flock…
fits right in.
…for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you…
seems just right. We’ve been worrying about our food, our clothing, having a home and all that. Now it sounds like he’s going to tell us that all those practical concerns are going to be covered.
But wait: what doe our Father plan to give us?
Yep. Once again your prayers got edited. You wanted a healthy life with your basic needs met. Instead you get the kingdom.
Do not be afraid, little flock,
for it is your Father’s good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 NRSV)
Great. Pie in the sky when I die?
It is a strangely comforting and strangely disappointing promise.
Jesus, however, thinks it’s pretty awesome. Look at the response he expects from his listeners:
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 12:33 NRSV)
If you want an image of someone really getting that message, go watch the late Franco Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” (You can stream it on Amazon.) (I looked for a YouTube link for the relevant scene, but no luck.)
It is Zeffirelli’s incredibly gorgeous rendition of the true story of St. Francis and St. Clare.
Francis had been a soldier, then a POW, then an invalid, and in the process God got hold of him. Basically he took all the Gospel stuff seriously and decided he’d just do it.
So his father is a wealthy cloth merchant who wants his son to join the business. But instead, the converted and awakened Francis goes to the storage tower and starts hurling bolts of fancy cloth down to the people in the street.
“Throw it away!” he shouts to the crowd. “Throw it all away! It will never make you happy!” And he tells them about those lilies I keep mentioning.
His father of course is not amused. Dad hauls Francis through the streets to the authorities. Francis, full of joy, continues to tell the crowd that riches aren’t the way to happiness. As proof: “Look at my poor father!”
Anyway, it’s maybe my favorite movie of all time, filled with views of Italian countryside and the folk revival music of Donovan.
And more important, it is the only scene I can think of that portrays the fulness of Jesus’ message here:
It’s okay to hang loose about your possessions. In fact you can be generous. You can give them away to people who are in dire need.
And why? Because what God wants to give you is so much more. God is giving you the kingdom. The kingdom.
Understanding that in depth is a matter of further study.
- There is the question of what it means to live in and receive the kingdom now.
- There is the question of what it means to receive and live in the kingdom at the end of the age.
That I will leave to you or for another day.
But the point of the section is clear:
Receiving the kingdom is so amazingly wonderful that it should redefine our relationship to our stuff.
Emphasis on “should.” Like if we could only comprehend it. Like if we could only believe.
Personally I’ve made very little progress in this.
2. Keep Watch
The second message of this passage is wrapped around the third. It is, to me, a very familiar emphasis of Jesus’ core teaching on the End of the Age, or the Second Coming, or whatever term you favor.
It is not a call to sift allegorical symbols of apocalyptic prediction, comparing every line of Scripture with the headlines.
It is a call to keep watch. Be ready, “dressed for action.” He’s coming at an unexpected hour.
It should be familiar. He said it often enough.
It should be enough to keep Christians from straining their tiny theological muscles to find blood moons and marks of beasts that just happen to be happening in our particular century.
But it isn’t.
3. Radical Generosity (Reprise)
It is the third message which is so surprising, so beautiful, and harmonizes so delightfully with the first.
You, the slave, do all that watching.
Your master returns.
You open the door.
What does the master do?
…truly I tell you,
he will fasten his belt
and have them sit down to eat,
and he will come and serve them.
blessed are those slaves.” (Luke 12:37-38 NRSV)
Well that’s unexpected.
The slaves should rejoice to have the master home. They should sit him in his easy chair, pour him a tall cool one and make him dinner.
Jesus on his return is the same Jesus revealed in the flesh. The one who did not exploit his equality with God, who humbled himself and took the form of a servant, who wrapped a towel around his waist and washed their feet.
And of course all the other things he did were lowly service too — all his feeding of the hungry, all his teaching of the ignorant, all his welcoming of the foreigners and the outcasts.
What we see in Jesus is all a massive revelation of who God really is. And when Jesus, God in the flesh, comes back? He’ll be as generous and more.
He won’t lord it over us. He’ll take care of us in our hunger and our brokenness.
In fact, he’ll give us the kingdom.
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