“Be ready for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives” (Lk. 12:35-38).
Waiting is hard work. It may be the hardest kind of work. Jesus described it here as the kind of work that allows us to hear. The blessing comes to those whose work is proved simply by opening the door. This is the work of a special kind of waiting. It’s called listening.
But isn’t this an awkward way for Jesus to talk about his second coming? How odd would it be if when he got here he knocked before coming in?
Slave: “I’m in the middle of something. Your name please?”
Master: “Oh, I beg your pardon. It’s the Alpha and Omega, who was and is and is to come. You can call me Almighty for short. I’ll answer to ‘God’ too. May I come in, please?”
We probably all imagine—and probably prefer—the more imposing image of Christ returning in all his glory, something that does justice to the name tag. The manger approach is nice and all, but we’re hoping for a little more fireworks next time around. This may be because that’s the kind of Christ we want our enemies to have to face (since he’s clearly on our side), but more so because that’s the kind of Christ that can’t really be missed—he’s easy to see. In that case, we are free to live our loud lives without listening for him to come—wake up, screen on, eat and run, text and drive, bounce around, back home, screen back on, eat again, lie down, earbuds in; repeat.
But what if he is coming then for those who are listening for him now?
It’s one thing to agree to wait for someone to come and raise us from the dead after we die—not much to lose there—but the men in the parable were not waiting on just anything or anyone. They were waiting for “their master.” The Bible says that when Jesus returns every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord (i.e., Master of all). But there is nothing particularly special about bowing down to a guy with a giant sword shooting out of his mouth whose eyeballs are on fire (John said he’d kind of look like that, Rev. 12-20. By the way, John only saw him after he heard his voice—“I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me”, Rev. 1:12. John, like the guys in the parable, heard the second coming before he saw it too). At any rate, at that point I doubt any of us are likely to quibble over which guy in the room is really in charge. This parable is not concerned with who will recognize that Jesus is the Master when he arrives. It is concerned with who will recognize him as their Master in the meantime. That’s why it spoke of the men who were listening for “their Master” (Lk. 12:36) before he arrived but then spoke of “the Master of the house” once he was there (Lk. 12:39). Jesus is Master of the house regardless of how we feel about it on any particular day, but we are free to live as though he were not, at least until he returns…
Now most Christians like pretty much everything about Jesus. The one thing we do tend to struggle with is the part about him being the Lord, that whole Master-slave bit. It just doesn’t seem very democratic. It’s not so much that we don’t like the idea of Jesus being in charge of the universe—we want him to end wars and conquer death and all that—it’s just that we don’t like the idea of not being in charge of ourselves. “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” just somehow seems to roll off the tongue a lot easier than “Not my will.”
But what if we were convinced he is a better Master of our lives than “My will?” What if we were convinced that his perfect will is always for our greatest good? What if “My will” has no clue what it is doing? What if there is a STRONG correlation between “My will” getting exactly what it wants and a whole host of problems in the world? What if “My will” is my greatest enemy? After all, “My will” is behind every addiction. It created the porn industry. Every divorce? “My will.” Every affair? “My will” Gossiping? Bullying? That sneaky passive-aggressive stuff? Laziness? Everything associated with the thing called regret? My will x 5. The fall of mankind? Yep.
What if, in fact, we really are not god? What if we actually need a Master? What if the freedom of “My will” is the only thing keeping me from my freedom? Would we then perhaps listen for the voice of another Master?
By the way, what kind of Master is it that knocks on the door of his own house? I think it’s the kind who comes in after his slave opens the door to him and “dresses himself for service and has his slaves recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Lk. 12:37). It’s the kind of Master who will set his slaves “over all his possessions” (Lk. 12:44).
The kind of Master who puts his slaves in charge of his house and then knocks when he comes home is the kind of Master who doesn’t need slaves, or anything for that matter, and has no desire to enslave anyone (making him exactly not like any of us)–because everything is already his.
The only kind of Master who knocks at the door of his own universe is the one who created the universe to give it away. It’s the kind of Master whose slaves know they don’t make good gods for themselves or anyone else simply because they are not God, and have thereby discovered the joy of living for a God who is for their good and a kingdom for the good of all, one they don’t have to try in vain to create, where they don’t have to fight their way to the top, always be right, earn their value, pretend not to be insecure, hide how they really feel, worry about belonging… It’s the kind of Master whose slaves know what it means to be free. And they know it because he told them—and they were listening.
“I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…And I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 3:20-21).