Luke 12:35-48 “Faithful Servants”
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit. I will point out that this is a commandment from Jesus. Our Lord is not really remembered forgiving a lot of commandments. In fact, he licked to shorten up the list and say “all the commandments are summarized by ‘love God and your neighbor.” That is what we know today as the Great Commandment. This is found in Mathew 22:36. It is also found on every Christians heart! This is a living commandment to love.
So, when we read “Get dressed for action,” we wonder how this is supposed to look. Though it is not clear in our English bibles that have decided to take the same single verb in Greek and translate it two different ways in the same passage, we should note that in the original text the “Get dressed for action” phrase and “He will fasten his belt” (verse 37) are the exact same word in the Greek. Older English versions will translate this simply as “Gird yourselves”; however, today we do not understand the idea of girding anymore. Maybe because girdles are no longer worn!
Unbeknownst to most people, my daughter Carolyn well trained in the martial art of Jujitsu. When she started her training at a young age, she was given a white belt to show that she was a novice. Later, her rank increased, and the color of the belt changed to show that. She eventually rose to become a blue belt. She was never a black belt.
Let me share with you a few notes on the belts that one can earn in martial arts that strangely apply to what we are reading here this morning from Jesus. First, it is all but impossible to fight in martial arts without a belt. The reason is that the “gi” is so loose fitting and open in the front that one really cannot move well unless a belt is fastened around it.
This was the case in Jesus’ day as well with the robes that they wore on a regular basis. They would have to gird up in order to build a fire, or cook, or draw water, or anything else. The robe might catch fire otherwise. So, Jesus is telling us in this way to be ready to do something.
Ten years ago we hosted an exchange student from Japan, Chisato Umetsu. Her parents in Japan sent Christmas gifts to us. That was very kind since they were not Christian. They sent to me what Chisato called “leisure wear” for around the house. The top part of it would just fall open. I learned then that I also needed to wear a sponge-like black belt with it. On that day, I earned my black belt in leisure!
We are supposed to be ready to do what? What are we putting this belt on for? This call to action sounds like we should be arming ourselves for a battle. Yet, Jesus in verse 37 says that we are arming ourselves instead for serving others. That is exactly what Jesus says the master will do, “gird himself to serve others.” We do not talk much about Christian service. We usually talk about restaurant service or military service, but there is what Jesus tells us is Christian service. Be ready for it.
The second thing about this belt in martial arts is that you do not get to pick your own color of belt. Within the dojo it is the sensei, or teacher, that supplies the belt. You are given the belt from the master. You earn it. Anyone who puts on a black belt but has not earned it, will soon realize the mistake when paired against another student who has been given really a black belt!
My daughter never received a black belt in Jujitsu. This is the third thing I want to point out. Jujitsu is literally the “art of falling down.” It is a totally defensive form of martial arts. It is designed to avoid fights and injuries. It is about keeping the eye contact and stance of readiness while backing away from the fight! Jesus is not saying that we need to go out and karate chop the world. He is saying that the world is coming after us Christians, and we need to be ready.
The other part of the initial command that Jesus gives us is to keep our lamps lit. Unfortunately, we do not go around as Christians wearing belts of service. Christians do not have uniforms—unless you are in the Salvation Army or live in the Vatican. Jesus himself really did not have a uniform that pointed out to everyone else that He was the Son of God. I mean, he could have at least worn a nametag. Only in the end when he was crucified did they put a nametag on his wooden cross. Then, everyone would have thought his name was “Henry” because it said simply INRI (Iesus Nazariti Rex Iudaii.) Still we go into older churches and wonder about those four letters.
How do people know we are Christian? We must let the light of Christ shine through us. Saint Francis of Assisi once said “Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ always, and if necessary even use words.” He also wore just a simple sackcloth robe with a rope belt, which is still what Franciscan priests wear today.
We will let Christ’s light shine into the world by our Christian service. That is what is meant by keeping the lamp lit. So, do not let that fire for service go out! These are dark times. Keep your lamps lit.
One more thing is that when Jesus tells this parable, the master is coming from a wedding party. Why should that even matter where the master is coming from? Yet, Jesus says this because he is referencing that He himself is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. This can be found in John 3:29, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. . . ,who stands and hears him, and rejoices greatly.” This idea of Jesus and us, the church, making vows to one another is found also throughout the letters of Paul to the early churches.
We are promised to one another. We have made promises that we will keep. Jesus is in heaven now preparing the banquet for us. When he returns, we will be ready to celebrate with him.
Now, Peter was listening to Jesus say all these things and was confused. Remember that there are still thousands of people gathered around Jesus. Peter wants to know if Jesus is speaking to his twelve disciples directly, or is the call for all to be ready for action. This call to action, how big is it supposed to be? Is Jesus calling for a true rebellion to take place?
Jesus responds with saying that the faithful must be “prudent.” This is a word we never hear anymore! Yet, it is a trademark of the faithful, according to Jesus. What is prudence? It means to be wise in practical affairs.
I do not think I have heard the word “prudent” used in the vernacular since the first Bush Administration! He used to love using that word. To this day I remember him as the “prudent President.” In the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in Iraq after he took over Kuwait, President Bush stopped short of taking over all of Iraq. His reasoning? “It wouldn’t be prudent.” He was right, too! We only learned that much later.
What is prudent for Jesus is that his disciples would become the leaders of other Christian servants. Part of their service would be in Christian leadership. Jesus defines this at the last supper when he gets down on his hands and knees and washes the disciples feet, telling them that unless they do likewise, they will have no part in Jesus. So, today we have this servant model of ministry that is born out of prudence.
Since we are having the “Jesus in the Hood” ministry today, I thought I would use the example of car repair to explain prudence in service of Christ. About two months ago, I noticed that my rear truck tire was going flat, slowly. I pumped it back up again. The refill lasted about a week. I put more air in. It lasted about three days. I put more air in, and so on. Finally I took the tire off the truck to find the leak. I usually notice a nail or something obvious. In fact, I had already plugged the tire once. This time however, I noticed that it was sidewall itself that had cracks in it that seemed to be oozing out air. That tire was set for a blowout on the highway. So, I had to get a new tire. This was prudent. It might cost me my life in a wreck otherwise.
Out of prudence, I thought I should check the other tires carefully as well. Although the front right tire was holding air, I notice deep cracks in the tread at one place that also could lead to a blow out. I had to replace that tire too. It is just prudence!
Now, if I see my Christian brother or sister driving on a tire that is dangerous and may lead to a fatal crash, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to say nothing? Let them crash? Keep my phone on for when the call comes in from the ER? The Jesus in the Hood ministry is prudent! I don’t have to get the call from the Emergency Room as a pastor! Praise God! You all don’t have to go through months of recovery from a crash! That is super!
Our Christian service is not just about proper tire inflation: We see people heading for a crash all the time. It might be because of anger or addiction. It might be because of foolishness or indecision. Faithful prudence as servants of Jesus says that we must do something.
Jesus points out that we have been greatly entrusted with this faith. If we do nothing when we are called to serve, then we will be called out for it in the end. Too whom much has been entrusted, much will be demanded, according to our Master. Let’s get to serving the Lord then! It is time to gird up and keep our lamps lit. We made our promise to the master who is preparing the wedding feast for us now up in heaven. Let us be faithful to our Lord.