35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
We move into a new theme. Though, I suppose it’s not entirely new. In the previous section on money, Christ was emphasizing having an outlook that valued what was truly important (people) and trusted in God over the accumulation of wealth.
In that section was the parable of a man who became very wealthy, but passed away that very night as he made grandiose plans to horde even more stuff for himself so he could enjoy a life spent on his own desires.
So even in the midst of a discussion of finances, there is a theme of the transitory nature of life which could come to an end at any moment for any of us.
This section continues with the idea of a sudden, unexpected change. In this case, it is the return of Jesus Christ. The early church was very apocalyptic minded. Actually, I suppose it could be said that the church in general has been very apocalyptic since its founding, expecting Christ to return at any moment, and often making predictions about it. You might recall a couple of years ago, a bunch of billboards posted by a Christian radio host predicting the end of the world. That we’ve been wrong so often before doesn’t stop some folks from seeing each new year as the year that Jesus will finally return to the Earth.
So in context keep in mind that the early church expected the soon return of Jesus (within the lifetime of St. John, though John does his best to debunk that rumor.) Luke’s emphasis on the apocalypse can therefore be seen as addressing a topic that was of some importance to the church, and the encouragements here would be seen as a warning against apostasy or falling away from the practice of Christianity back into their pagan ways.
But the overall idea for the Christian, whether Jesus suddenly appears in his lifetime or not, is that life is short and can end rather quickly, so what we do today matters. The people we interact with. The words we speak. The things we do today matter. Because today might not be just another day. It might be the last day we have.
So the encouragement is to be alert. Be mindful of our deeds. Be mindful of our actions. Be mindful of others in need. Because life is short.
Peter’s interjection puts Jesus off onto a discussion of the greater responsibilities of those Christians who have been tasked with teaching and leading others. A steward was an official appointed by a noble to run things and serve as head of that property or state while the noble was away. He was a leader with authority acting in the place of the nobleman or king. If you’re familiar with the Lord of the Rings books, you might remember the steward of Gondor. He was essentially acting-King until the real kings returned to reclaim their kingdom.
So it is with bishops or with anyone who is in a position of leadership within the church. God is watching your actions. People look to you as representatives of Christ. They see your example. If you abuse your authority, people see Christ as a bully or an abuser. If you give in to the temptation to accumulate great wealth to dissipate it on yourself, that’s the Jesus your students and the world sees. And when the end does come, God will repay those who have failed in their duties and leadership roles accordingly.
So the overall emphasis continues to be: wake up. Be mindful. Today matters.