7 August 2016

Luke 12:32-40

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 34)

Psalm: Psalm 33


Following the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) this passage continues to deal with the potentially devastating effects of our attitude to wealth. Our capacity for greed is challenged, alongside any belief that possessions can completely secure the future. Words of comfort are offered: "Do not be afraid" (v. 32). The phrase is used frequently by Jesus when addressing the human community, recognising how many of our behaviours are rooted in fear of the past, present and future. The text orientates us to the reign of God in our world. In typical Lukan fashion, the instruction is direct and specific: "Sell your possessions, and give alms" (v. 33). This is accompanied by a promise of being given purses that will not wear out and unfailing treasures. A contrast is offered between what is permanent and what is transient.

Often those with an abundance of wealth have used this passage (and its preceding verses) to suggest we should ignore food and clothing, but Jesus recognises we cannot live without the basic essentials of life. The invitation to sell your possessions is not to plunge yourself into poverty, but about being released from possessiveness by living gratefully and generously with what God has given you. The giving of alms (charitable donations) is assumed to be a normative part of discipleship. Luke delivers his message with clarity and persistence: discipleship means serving the poor. In many ways this text echoes the words of John Wesley's famous advice, 'make all you can, save all you can, give all you can'. We need to remember when reading this that 'saving' was not a reference to putting things aside but a refraining from spending, so that you could give more.

The final section (verses 35-40) offers an incredible note of reversal. The servants are prepared for their master. In this scenario, the master may well have been a slave himself acting on the master's wishes. Lamps in antiquity needed constant attention and watchfulness, replenishing the oil and adjusting the wick, to remain lit. Not only are the lamps lit, the servants are also dressed and 'ready for action'. The master is so delighted to discover his servants are alert and ready for him, that the roles are reversed; slaves are seated and served by their master. This is another reminder of Jesus challenging the cultural norms of power and status by being among us as one who serves, that we might follow his example. To be a disciple of Christ is to know and anticipate his wishes. Life is to be lived in expectation and readiness (eschatological anticipation) for the Son of Man's return. This places our relationship to our possessions in a new context. People in poverty often live lives concerned about their immediate needs, in contrast to people with wealth who are concerned about future security. God's economy is clearly expressed in Luke, living as disciples of Christ means living with a commitment to respond to those in need. Living in Britain after the EU Referendum, this text offers a reminder of our long-term hope in God. Our commitment is to live, work and serve all and particularly those who feel alienated and distanced as a result of poverty.

To Ponder

  • What dangers do you recognise in the accumulation of wealth?
  • How can we live generously with our material possessions?
  • What does it mean for you to live well 'now' in anticipation of the future?

Bible notes author

Deacon Eunice Attwood

Eunice is a Methodist deacon. She is a tutor in Pastoral Theology at the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham, and a member of the Centre for Ministerial Formation since 2012.