In the past few months—and, indeed, in the past few centuries—we have seen Christians of various sensibilities make and implement plans for how to influence government and church to bring about their vision for what is good, holy and life-giving. The effects of some of these plans have left Christians with differing ideals celebrating in some places and hurting in others. I don’t know about you, but on my Twitter feed it seems as if there is a tremendous amount of back and forth, preparing to respond to policy adversaries. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus talks about being ready to respond to others, but, in typical Jesus form, it looks a bit different from what most humans are doing most of the time.
The lectionary reading is a continuation of Jesus’ previous teaching on the greedy rich man (indeed, for most of the summer and fall, his words will only make sense when we consider what he said in the previous readings). Jesus told a tale about a man who had an unexpectedly large harvest. The man’s response, instead of generosity, was to tear down his barns to build larger ones so he could hoard literally more than he could handle. In the parable, God called this man a fool, asking him who would receive the riches that he had stored up for himself after his impending death.
As an extension of this parable, Jesus told his followers not to practice acquisitional worry—to not fret about what they would wear or what they would eat. Jesus gave examples from nature to clarify how God provides for living things that don’t store up food or raiment for themselves. Instead, those who follow Jesus should look for God’s kingdom and prepare for it.
How does one ready oneself for the kingdom of God? Jesus said we should practice the inverse economics of the rich man from the previous parable. We should sell our possessions and give to charity (Luke 12:33). Instead of building up for ourselves, we should be ready to meet the needs of others at every opportunity. Jesus points out that this isn’t just for the good of others but for ourselves. Working for God’s kingdom, rather than our own small kingdoms, will keep humans focused on the things of God that matter and last, instead of on passing riches, power or influence over others (Luke 12:34).
Instead of building up for ourselves, we should be ready to meet the needs of others at every opportunity.
Then Jesus offered a teaching that was directed mostly to those who lead and teach other Christians (according to Peter’s question and Jesus’ response in Luke 12:41-42). Jesus told a parable of slaves who were constantly ready to welcome their master back from a party. They remained alert and prepared to receive their master even at the most inconvenient hour. Jesus said the master would do the unthinkable: at the late hour, the master would take on the clothing of a servant and insist that the slaves practice habits of freedom by relaxing at the table and being served themselves (Luke 12:37). As another example, Jesus spoke of the need for constant readiness, not to welcome a master but to fend off an enemy (Luke 12:39). Being ready for 23 hours a day isn’t helpful if a thief breaks in during the other hour, Jesus said.
With this talk of readiness, Jesus is commenting on the application of his previous message of not letting our hearts be focused on building up power and wealth. Indeed, the readiness that he commands of his followers—especially the leaders of his followers—is a willingness to give and expend oneself on behalf of others. So while the rest of the world eagerly seeks signs of wealth and power (Luke 12:30), those who follow Jesus are to take positive steps to ready themselves for Jesus by being a river of life to our neighbors.
When the world is scary and threatening, how can those of us with wealth and power give them away to be a blessing to our communities? Doing so will not only be a blessing to others, but Jesus says divesting of power and wealth is the only way to keep our hearts ready for God’s kingdom.