Isaiah 63.7-9; Psalm 33.13-21; Hebrews 11.1-19; Luke 12.32-48
THE ADVANTAGES OF MODEST MEANS
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’
Introduction: One of the more important purchases faced by my wife is that of a new purse. I have been known to need a new wallet very occasionally, but they are much the same as each other, apart from the need for more space for credit cards and less for banknotes. But a woman’s purse is a strategic and complicated piece of equipment, not lightly acquired. How often do you need a new purse? Beyond purses, can you change the way you operate in the market-place? And with respect to other lifestyle matters, how flexible are you? How do you feel when you hear the urgings to eat less, exercise more’? Jesus means more change than merely of our purses.
Today we follow on from the Parable of the Rich Fool, which Jesus tells in response to an interjection from someone in the crowd, and is directed at the public in general. The teaching which follows is directed to the disciples, as we are specifically told in verse 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. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…”’ And he concludes (v.31): “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well”. A new section then begins with our text for the day.
We recall briefly that we are with the disciples on the road with Jesus, bound for Jerusalem and his fate there, continuing to wrestle with the nature of God’s kingdom in our daily lives, and what it means to believe. We could express it as ‘Kingdom discipleship on the road, not falling away due to the distractions and attractions of material things: assets, food, clothing.’
- ‘Do not be afraid, little flock’:
With these gentle words to his disciples our Lord shows his understanding of our frailty, and his careful persuasion of the better way than that of the Rich Fool. We should remember that wealth was admired in this culture, even more than in ours, being seen unambiguously as a sign of divine favour. Yet Jesus is uncompromising in his outlining of a different way for his followers. We must wrestle with how he would want us to act in our own day: “Sell your possessions and give alms”. Over the next several chapters, and climaxing with the story of Zacchaeus, the penitent wealthy tax-farmer, Jesus keeps at this theme, but in ways we can work with. Here the emphasis is that we should travel light, faithful, focused, flexible. Those of you who have travelled a lot overseas know how advantageous it is to simplify your luggage. Is it so difficult to apply this more broadly? We heard today of the example of Abraham, who was prepared not to be tied down geographically in his obedience. Yet God blessed him with great wealth. However, his real treasure was in his confidence in God’s faithfulness. This drove him, not his wealth. He was able to hazard his wealth in pursuit of his obedience to God’s call.
- Servants of Our Master:
Jesus then changes the image to that of servants in their master’s household, ready for the master’s return at any time, even in the middle of the night, or at dawn. The inversion of usual values (both then and now) continues in the declaration that if the master finds his servants alert and waiting for him at any time, he will reward them by taking the servant role and serving them! The kingdom of God is certainly different from contemporary secular examples! The theme is that we should always be ‘dressed for service’, ready for the cue to action in accordance with the values of the kingdom. The challenge for us of English-speaking Middle-Class culture, then, is our settled lives, with business and diary and budget obsessions. These all make us slow to pick up the opportunities that may come to us, impatient with interruptions.
[‘African Time’ is not all bad! Re recent Compass Program on Shepparton Lutheran Church’s transformation through welcoming Sudanese migrants].
‘Dressed for service’ means having the right attitude. This is more significant than thinking about possessions alone.
- ‘For us or for everyone?’ (v.41): The final part of the Gospel today is of particular interest and relevance in view of the different audiences referred to earlier, the pressing crowds around, and the disciples, closer to Jesus. Hearing Jesus speak of servants in the master’s household, using a parable, Peter asks ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ It is a good question. In answering, with yet another parable, Jesus does not appear to answer Peter’s question, but tells of slaves with differing levels of responsibility and ability. He raises the stakes by telling of different levels of punishment relative to the degree of failure of performance of these different responsibilities and capacities. It seems Jesus does not want to draw a clear line between who is in the kingdom and who is not, saying only that judgement will be just and proportionate: ‘From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.’ Just as the Rich Fool was held accountable, so too disciples, then and now, must avoid complacency.
Conclusion: ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’
It is a lovely word from Jesus. The Father wants us in his presence. We must encourage each other in being ‘kingdom people’. We are to use our assets accordingly, to sit light to them, to convert money and time and abilities into the kingdom, whether it be financial, or in volunteering and caring, or visiting, or casseroles, or surprising random acts of generosity or kindness. Paradoxically, it is in this way that we find our kingdom citizenship, and it is through this that the early churches changed the Roman world in under three hundred years, and it is the way we will change our world in our own day.
‘Freely you have received; Freely give.’ (Matthew 10.8; Acts 20.35)
‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’