Today’s reading from Luke 12 is one of three eschatological discourses in the Gospel. All three of the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ concern for his disciples as he warned them to keep alert, to keep watch over themselves with careful attention. The passage is a collection of short parables, in which the chief characters are a master (representing the risen Jesus), and his servants (Jesus’ followers). According to the Fathers of the Church, Jesus’ words in this passage have two senses. In the narrower sense, the words refer to the Second Coming of Jesus, but in the broader sense they refer to the time of our own death, when God will call us to meet Him and to give Him an account of our life on earth. Since the precise time of either coming is unknown to us, the proper attitude for Jesus’ followers is constant watchfulness. “The secret to living out the theological virtue of Faith is to see that the here and now is the place and time in which God wants us to meet Him and to serve Him. It is not in the past, which is over. It is not the future, which we can only imagine and so is not real. The person in the state of grace who washes the dishes well, because it is his job, and who offers this work to God for the sake of his neighbour, is living out the virtue of Faith and is prepared to meet Christ.” (St. Jose Maria Escriva).
In the first part of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us what our real treasure should be and how we may keep it safe. The treasure God offers is of far greater value and is more secure than any earthly treasure. Nevertheless, it is possible for us to lose this treasure if we do not guard it carefully. The treasure is the Faith-relationship with God, which the Lord offers us in Baptism, a share in His own Life (Sanctifying Grace) through which we begin, here on earth, to lead our eternal life in Heaven with Him. But this treasure can be stolen by the devil or lost by our lack of vigilance during our temptations. Jesus uses two comparisons to explain the nature of the vigilance required of us. We must be ready for action like a servant and trimmed for service like an oil lamp. The long flowing robes worn by people of the day were a hindrance to work. When a man prepared himself to work, he gathered up his robes under his girdle (belt) to leave himself free for activity. The reference to fastened belts and lamps burning ready (v. 35) also recalls the preparedness for action, which was legislated for Israel in the Passover ritual (Ex12:1). Just as the Israelites were to be ready to pass from slavery to freedom, so are the disciples to live in a state of alertness to recognize and accept the Passover which Jesus offers – from sin and death to forgiveness and life.
In the second part of today’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts his followers to be steadfast in their Faith and ever vigilant. He explains his point using three mini-parables. The servants of a master were entrusted with the management of the household. In Jesus’ day, although stewards were slaves, they had almost unlimited power. A trusted steward ran his master’s house and administered his estate. When his master was not at home, the steward was ever vigilant. He prepared himself for his master’s return at any time of the day or night by always doing his duties faithfully. Jesus illustrates the same point using another mini parable of the wise servants waiting for the return of their master after a wedding feast.
Jesus teaches us the need for constant vigilance, using yet another mini parable, that of the thief and the treasure. We should not lose our treasure of Divine grace like the man who awoke one day to discover that a thief had stolen his wealth during the night. These parables are addressed to all believers to encourage “wakefulness” and preparedness. We must be vigilant like the servant in the parable waiting for his master’s unexpected return or like the wise homeowner who was well prepared for the unexpected break-in of a thief. Since the time of our death is quite uncertain, we, too, must be ever ready to meet our Lord at any moment. He should find us carrying out our tasks of love, mercy, and service, rather than leaving things undone or half-done. He should also find us at peace with God, with ourselves and with our fellowmen (Eph 4:26).
Jesus then presents the parable of the unwise steward as a warning to us. The unwise steward made two mistakes. (i) He said, “I will do what I like while my master is away. “Like him, we often forget that our Lord is always with us, and that we will be accountable to him on the day of reckoning. Misuse of an office for one’s own advantage or the abuse of others will bring about severe punishment, for the returning Lord will place that servant “with the unfaithful.” (ii) He said, “I have plenty of time to put things right before the master comes.” Nothing is as fatal to the accomplishment of a task as procrastination. Jesus also warns us that knowledge and privilege bring responsibility with them. Today, looking back on two thousand years of Christian history, we find it difficult to expect Christ’s second coming during our lifetime. But we are sure to meet him at our death. Since the date and time of our death are also unknown to us, we should always be ready to give him an account of our lives.