Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Luke 12 is a collection of sayings about having faith not in earthly things but in God. Last week we heard Jesus remind his listeners not to worry about inheritances but instead to place their attention on God. The lectionary then skips ten verses that are well-known:
“22 He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
As someone who can really relapse into worrying all through my life, these verses have always been very helpful to me. However, ultimately, all of our worrying about earthly matters really does nothing except paralyze us, which is really practical advice for everyone.
So let’s look at the assigned verses for this week. Once again, the topic is priorities and the trust that is required to have them in the right place.
One of my favorite albums for the past ten years is Zero Church, by Suzzy and Maggie Roche. It was collected and recorded after 9/11. One of the songs on it took a poem by Kent Keith, which had been a favorite of Mother Teresa’s. Here is the song, “Anyway.” I thought of it after our discussion last week about Mother Teresa and the attitude of the Teacher in the Ecclesiastes reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83KXqVFaWYk
One of the great cures for worry and despair, I have found, is action. And here Jesus gives three commands to his followers, that makes that point clear to all of us:
1. Do not be afraid.
2. Sell your possessions and give alms.
3. Be ready for action, with lamps lit for a journey even in the dark.
Remember the classic trio of faith, hope, and love (or charity)? Here they are again! Look at the commands again. In other words:
1. Have faith.
2. Have charity.
3. Have hope for God’s kingdom here on earth.
1. Have faith- do not be afraid. (verse 32). Did you know that the command “Do not be afraid” occurs 67 times in the NRSV version of the Bible, 49 times in the Old Testament alone? I bet if you thought for a while you could name several instances when this phrase was used—to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds when an angel appeared to them in the gospel of Luke, chapters1-2. Abram was told not to be afraid in our Old Testament reading today in Genesis 15:1. Jacob (Israel) was told not to be afraid before setting out for Egypt. Moses told the Israelites not to be afraid as the Egyptian army was bearing down upon them as they fled Egypt. Fear prevents us from thinking and seeing reality and instead causes us to react instinctively. Once we are not afraid, we can ACT. Specifically, in this reading, Jesus reminds us of God’s providence and love for us. Following the command not to be afraid, three command verbs are specifically used: sell, give, make. Sell your possessions, give to the poor, make a purse for your REAL treasure—life in God here on earth, which you will have so abundantly you will need a purse for it. We can trust this because God is “our Father” (v. 22), who is pleased to give us the kingdom.
2. Have charity (verses 33-34). The action that flows from conquering our fear is to show our love for neighbor, which the kingdom of God will be grounded upon, by taking care of others. That’s what alms are for. Give to those who can give nothing back. Your reward will be from God for putting your priorities and actions in the right place. Once you have faith, act upon that faith by focusing on others, especially the poor. I have also noticed in my life that being generous is freeing, just as not worrying is freeing. Just as the opposite of fear is faith and trust, the opposite of fear is being openhearted. This involves more than just charity, however, but a total realignment of the values human societies are all-too-often based upon. Some people nowadays claim that government has no function in doing things that should be the province of private charities. But at the bottom of this belief is the idea that government has no function in assuring the basic well-being of its citizens. This idea only works if we conceive of government as something apart from us, an alien institution. But, if one believes in the words of Abraham Lincoln that government is “of the people, by the people, ands for the people,” then government is us, and the gospel here is very clear that this entails obligations to establish a just and equitable society. The foundation of God’s kingdom is justice and generosity. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”
3, Have hope (verses 35-38). Be ready for “the master’s” return—here Jesus is talking about when the kingdom of God will be established here on earth and “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” We do not know when that will happen, but it is clear that we have a part to play in establishing it—we must act to bring it into being. This is another tie to the Hebrews reading, by the way—the audience was despairing that the Parousia—the return of Christ from Heaven discussed in the end of the second section of the Nicene Creed—had not occurred yet. Thus this gospel reading could be addressed to the same audience there, as well.