Awake with Watchfulness

Awake with Watchfulness

Luke 12:32-40

Before the pandemic started only 5% of people worked from home. At the height of the pandemic up to 60% were working from home. After several false starts, office workers are slowly returning to their desks.  Many companies like JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Meta, Tesla, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft urged workers to go back to the office.  Other companies like Apple, Citigroup, and HSBC moved to Hybrid options that require the employees to come into the office about three days a week. Based on survey results in December researchers reckon that up to 28% might be working from home after the pandemic.

One of the big issues from the employer’s point of view is productivity. There are proponents on both sides of the issue.  A study by Standford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%.  The Remote Collaborative Worker Survey, released Feb. 9 showed that among those who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77 percent reported greater productivity while working offsite.  The latest research suggests an increase in productivity of 3-5%. ( Meanwhile, Gallup’s research confirms that hybrid workers have a slight edge in terms of productivity.  Some companies go to great lengths constantly monitor the productivity of employees with various forms of technology, video cameras, and sign sheets.

This controversy about working at home without supervision is not a new issue!  In various parables, Jesus refers to an employer leaving his employees to attend to responsibilities and waiting upon his return.  Upon return, he would evaluate their responsibilities, stewardship of his property, and the work done. Those who were attentive and responsible received a blessing while the inattentive and irresponsible servants missed out on the blessing.

Jesus uses the parable of the Watchful Servant in Like 12 to communicate to us the core of our spirituality: our full attentiveness to the Master!  “37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert.”

The parallel parable in Mark 13:33-37 has even more emphasis on attentiveness:  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, …. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

In Matthew, the parable is summarized in one sentence in Matthew 24 verse 42: “Keep awake, because you do not know when your master is coming.

There is a very strong exhortation to alertness, presence, watchfulness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to the MASTER!  The focus of attention should be on the master! This is the core of our spirituality: Giving our full attention to what God is doing right now.

Why this focus and attentiveness to God?  Does God have some selfish egocentric motive of just wanting all the attention?

The passage directly preceding this parable is crucial to our understanding and interpretation of this parable, and to find the motive of God for our call to alertness:

The Message 12:31-32 “Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” (2X)

Luke 12:32 in the NRSV: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!

I don’t think our minds will ever be able to grasp the depth of this sentence: for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!   The reason that God asks for our watchful attentiveness is that we can be ready to receive the Kingdom of God!  If you are distracted, inattentive, absentminded, and preoccupied you will miss out on the most valuable gift: the coming of the Kingdom! 

In the parable, the master returns from a wedding banquet. In New Testament language the wedding banquet refers to the Kingdom of God, a place of abundance, celebration, joy, love, and life.  

For the servants who are ready and waiting, the master himself will come in and do something extraordinary! He will change the roles and have the servants sit down at the table, and the master himself will serve the servants!  What a surprise. What a reversal. Can you believe it? Think about his expression…Can YOU believe it? The master will generously bless those servants with alert, watchful, and serving attitudes and actions with the gifts of the Wedding banquet: life, love, and abundance. The master will serve his servants it will be a joyful occasion! The master will treat servants like equals, having them recline at the table, coming alongside them to serve them food—in a reversal of the master/servant role at the table.

The attitude of alertness of the servants is therefore not that of anxiousness and fear, but hope, expectation, love, abundance and obedience.

In the passage, that we read Jesus wants to say, “When you are alert, dressed, ready for work, with the olive lamps burning and with ears listening for a knock on the door, the master will be very pleased with your attitude and watchfulness so that you can receive the Kingdom!

Jesus said many times: “You must always be ready because you never know when the Son of man, when Christ, is going to come knocking at your door. You never know. You need to always be ready for Christ to come and knock at the door of your life.”

The theologian CH Dodd shows that the parable refers to the coming of the Kingdom of God that has come unexpectedly in Jesus Christ.  Israel and its leaders were asleep and taken by surprise. This realization that the parable is not just referring to the second coming of Jesus, opens up a whole new world of understanding that the Kingdom of God has already come and that we as disciples and followers of Jesus must be aware and open to the way that God comes every day as the Kingdom of God breaks through into our world.

We are to be alert for the coming of Jesus at all times in our lives. Jesus is forever coming unexpectedly into our everyday lives, and we are to be alert, awake, attentive, ready, and prepared to see him, serve him, receive him, and welcome him.

The presence of God, the presence of Jesus is forever dropping in on us and intersecting with our lives. A telephone call, a chance encounter with a friend, a conversation with a parent, with a child, grandchild, friend, or stranger. There are thousands of ways each and every day that the Lord God unexpectedly comes to us. We need to be alert for his coming, with eyes open, with our senses being sensitive to his presence in and around our lives.

A beautiful illustration is a Christmas play called WAITING FOR THE CHRISTMAS GUEST, by Edwin Markham.  In this Christmas play, there is an old shoe cobbler by the name of Conrad and his wife, Martha. In a dream, Conrad the cobbler(kaab-ler), had a vision that he was going to be visited by Jesus himself before Christmas day. Conrad the cobbler believed his dream and Conrad was waiting for his special Christmas guest to arrive. This special Christmas guest was to be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ himself coming on Christmas Eve. And Martha, his wife, had prepared a gorgeous Turkey banquet for his expected guest, Jesus himself. But Jesus didn’t show up that night.

Instead of Jesus, the first person to show up on the doorsteps of the cottage was a homeless person, a castaway who wandered into Conrad and Martha’s home that Christmas Eve. Shortly, this homeless person found himself eating a portion of the feast that Martha had prepared for the anticipated special guest. The homeless man also received a set of shoes from Conrad the cobbler. The homeless man left the cottage with a full stomach and a pair of new shoes on his wrapped-in-rags feet but Conrad was still waiting for his special Christmas guest to arrive at his front door steps.

Next, a little old lady knocked on the door of Conrad and Martha’s cottage. She had been evicted from her home and was lost as she was trying to find her way to her son’s home. After wandering around the streets of the village, the little old lady found the front doorsteps to the cottage of Conrad and Martha. Soon, the recently evicted widow was eating a portion of the banquet which had been prepared for Jesus himself and she was sipping on a cup of warm tea that Martha had specially prepared. Before you knew it, Conrad was taking this little old, evicted lady by the hand and leading her to find her son’s house.

On the way back, Conrad the cobbler found a little boy who was hungry and lost as he was trying to find a baker that Christmas Eve. All the bakeries were closed that Christmas Eve. Conrad took the little lost boy home to his cottage and fed him some of the feasts that Martha had prepared for Christ who was not appearing as Conrad had thought he would. They gave cookies and milk to the little boy. They discovered that the little boy’s father had recently died, and the little boy belonged to the Widow Schultz. Martha herself took the lost little boy home that night with a loaf of Martha’s freshly baked bread, and Conrad was left all alone in his cottage.

All alone, Conrad the cobbler was wondering out loud why Jesus hadn’t come to his house that night. Conrad was so sure that Jesus would show up that Christmas Eve for the banquet that Martha had prepared for him. Conrad was mumbling to himself that night when he finally said, “Jesus, why didn’t you come to our cottage tonight? Why didn’t you come, Lord?”  He suddenly realized Christ actually visited him three times in the people he met thorough his attentive help.

Christ came to Conrad and Martha’s house three times that night. Both Conrad and Martha had this expectancy that Christ was to come that night. Unexpectedly, Conrad and Martha helped the homeless man with food and shoes. Unexpectedly, they helped the evicted old lady with hot tea and then took her to her son’s home. Unexpectedly they helped the little boy who couldn’t find a bakery on Christmas Eve and Martha then walked the little boy home to the Widow Schultz. Time after time, Conrad and Martha were open and receptive to Christ who unexpectedly showed up in their lives, uninvited, unexpected, and not looking very much like their image of Christ.  Conrad and Martha had consistently shared their resources with Christ. Conrad and Martha had this deep conviction that Christ was coming to them that night, and Christ did.

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss when God comes in unexpectant ways (and times) that might surprise us — in generosity instead of accumulation, in community instead of looking out for ourselves, in vulnerability and relationship rather than in strength. It’s easy to miss the God who comes in love and grace, you see, when all we expect is law and punishment. Our lives are anchored in the promise that God wants to give us all good things, the kingdom of God.

Jesus, in his parable for today, is inviting us to always be ready for the bridegroom to come, for the kingdom of God to break into our lives. We Christians live with that expectation and alertness, that God’s kingdom; that God’s possibilities, that God’s opportunities, are forever before us and around us, breaking into our lives.

We are always to be ready for Christ’s second coming, his third coming, his persistent coming, his relentless coming. The miracles of God’s presence are forever coming to us, and we need to be alert, awake, and ready for Christ’s in-breaking into our lives.

Let us live with this Spirit of expectation that Christ is meeting us daily. Knowing that the bridegroom is going to show up sometime this night. Knowing that we are to be dressed and waiting for action. Knowing that we are to have the nightlight on and assuming Christ will come. Knowing that we are to have an ear listening for a knock at the door. These actions all signal an attitude of expectancy that Christ is going to come at any moment in our lives.

And Christ does. Christ consistently and unexpectedly shows up at our doorsteps to the doors of our hearts. Christ consistently and unexpectedly shows up all around us, especially through people in need.

The promise of this parable is that the bridegroom will bless his servants who have this expectant servant attitude. Jesus wants us to know that we will be blessed for such attitudes and actions, in this life and in the next. 

When we live this way; when we live with the expectant attitude that Christ will break into our lives at any moment and when we are ready to serve him at any moment, God blesses us.

God blesses us when we are alive to the possibilities that life brings.

God blesses us when we are alert and ready to receive God’s unexpected comings.

God blesses us with the fulfillment that comes from finding life in the moment, in the present, in the small blessings that God showers upon us every day.

Being faithfully attentive to God is the crucial spiritual attitude to receive and live a spiritually abundant life. It is our Father’s joy and pleasure to give you the Kingdom of God!

Our Father, may your kingdom come and my we be awake and alert to receive your Kingdom!