Why Shouldn't This Little Flock be Afraid?
Based on the bulletin art, I see nothing but fear in this text. Isn't a thief breaking in while you sleep one of the scariest things imaginable? Aren't you glad that Jesus says, "Don't be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom"? But why shouldn't this little flock be afraid? Have we sold our possessions and given them to the poor? Are we dressed and ready for service always watching for our Lord's return? I don't think so; so how come this little flock shouldn't be afraid? The answer can be hard to see because we don't hear the Law in all it's ferocity or the Gospel in all it's sweetness, and we don't let the former be God's alien work and the latter His proper. Let me try to get around these failings by asking 3 questions.
Who seeks for what is already given? Go home and read Luke 12 in various translations. You'll find variety in paragraphs and even in sentences. There was no punctuation in the original manuscripts. They wrote in all caps with no space between words. The thought structure determined words, sentences, paragraphs. Our text is 12:32-40. When the pericope system was redone 16 years ago it was changed to either Luke 12:22-34 or 22-40. Both include verses 30 and 31 which are pericope doesn't. Verse 30 says don't seek what you will eat or drink as the world does. Verse 31 says, instead seek God's kingdom and promises all that other stuff will be added to you.
Then Jesus' words bowl us over: Jesus says the Father "has been pleased to give" the kingdom to us. This translates eudokeo which KVJ and ESV translate 'good pleasure'. This is the word the Father uses to express His delight at His only beloved Son both at His Baptism and Transfiguration. So the Father is as pleased to give you the kingdom as He is with His own Son. Say you have a special gift for a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling. If you told them you have a special gift that you're pleased to give them, would you want them seeking for it or worrying they might not get it?
Usually such gifts are costly - that's part of your good pleasure in giving them. I can remember gifts like that for the kids which were way beyond what we normally spent. After spending 80 dollars on a gift for child when we normally spent 10 do you think there was any way that child wasn't going to get that gift? How foolish, how sad if the child fretted about getting it and thought they could only have it if they sought it. Jesus says the Father has been pleased to freely give sinners the kingdom. But that free gift cost the Father dearly. In order to be well pleased to give you the kingdom, He gave His Son unimaginable suffering, shaming, crying, damning and dying for your sins. A gift bought at that price is going to be given.
Answer the question why shouldn't this little flock be afraid with another question: Who's afraid of a Lord coming home from a wedding reception? Going to or coming from a wedding is a repeated theme in the parables. Because we're sinners who are not worthy of even one good thing, we have a Jack and the Beanstalk view of our Lord coming home. "Fee-fi-fo-fum,/ I smell the blood of an Englishman,/ Be he alive, or be he dead/ I'll have his bones to grind my bread."
But Jesus says the Father doesn't come home like that but like one coming home from a wedding reception. Sure, it could happen that a father comes home angry, spoiling to punish from a wedding reception, but is that the norm? If that's the point, use coming home from a funeral, a fight, from a bad day at the office. But doesn't Jesus say, "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching"? A couple of things: Jesus uses the word 'Lord' not 'master' and, it's not 'men waiting for their master" but 'people waiting for their Lord'. Finally, He doesn't say it will be 'good' but that they are blessed, actually "supremely blest" or 'happy' (BLB.org). I checked 18 translations. Only NIV has 'good'. Blest or happy gives a different view of the situation. Who wouldn't be blest by a father coming home from a wedding banquet? The few times my parents were away for a special occasion no one had to tell us kids, "You must stay up and wait." "Be sure to watch!" Are you kidding? This was a big deal. We wanted to find out all about it. There are many other places to come home from that those waiting wouldn't be eager for a father to get there. Jesus doesn't use any of them. He uses a wedding. But there's more.
Answer the question why this little flock shouldn't be afraid with questions from this text: Who seeks for or worries about what is joyfully given? Who's afraid of a Lord coming home from a wedding reception? And who's afraid of a Lord who serves? When the Lord returns from a wedding to find waiting slaves Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them." "I tell you the truth" translates the Greek word amen. "It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech" (BLB.org). In the OT, 'amen' is doubled at the end of first 3 sub books of Psalms. The fourth has a single 'amen'. In fact in all the OT and Rabbinic literature it's always at the end of a Psalm, a praise, or prayer. Jesus alone uses 'amen' at the beginning of sentences and doubles it when He speaks in John.
Go to your Small Catechism. Notice what a big deal we make of that word 'amen' at the end of the Creed. We end every article's Explanation by translating 'amen' as "This is most certainly true." Now go to Luther's real end of the Lord's Prayer. He has, "Amen, Amen' means, 'Yes, yes, it shall be so'" (Tappert, III, 21). We say 'amen' so often we don't value it for the certainty it states or promises. It's most certainly true that those are blest who are watching for their Lord as a father coming home from a reception who can't wait to give them the kingdom. And then Jesus goes over the top, saying, "Amen" regardless of what hour of the night He comes, even if it's between 10 PM and 6 AM, He will dress Himself to serve you, have you recline at table as at a feast, and wait on you.
The Lord rewards those waiting and ready way beyond what they deserve or could ever imagine. He humbles Himself to provide a feast and a party though it be the middle of the night or break of day. This is the father who promised a whipping if his son disobeyed. When he did, the father, to keep His promise, whipped himself. This the Father giving up His own little Lamb to the sins of the world, to the punishing Devil and devouring Death, so He might claim stray dogs like us. This is John the Baptist: You should baptize me not me You. This is David I should build you a house, yet You promise to build me one. This is Jacob finding his beloved Joseph is not dead but the number 2 man in Egypt! This is Jesus saying, "Amen, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age...and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mk 10:29-30).
Go home. Read Ps. 126, the Psalm, "Bringing in the Sheaves" is based on: "When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy...Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves with him." I left verse 4 out; it talks about them being restored like a streambed. Judea is hill country too. Flash-flooding was a reality for them too. Ps. 126 uses it not as an image of sudden destruction, but of sudden, overwhelming joy. The Father can't wait to suddenly give us the kingdom, to come back from a wedding, to serve us a feast.
Of course like a pall that last verse hangs: "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Luke 12:40). Yup, the Lord who says, the Father is happy to give you the kingdom; the Father who says expect Me to return like a Lord coming home form a wedding; the Lord who says He'll wait on you, ends by saying the Son of Man is going to jump up when you don't expect Him shouting: "Surprise!" Everyone knows toddlers like to be surprised - to a point. They get real joy out of it. Till you go too far and they tear up. Then don't you rush to comfort them? Do you think the Lord who promises the chastised OT church that "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you" (Is. 66:13) wants to surprise you to the point of tears?
No, no, no, I tell you. The hour I would never expect the Son of Man to come is the hour of Baptism where He joins my mortal, fallen body to His immortal one for forgiveness and rescue from death and devil. The hour I sure don't expect the Lord to come is when I confess my sins against Him, and He says, "I forgive you; go you are free." And who on earth could expect God, in Body and Blood, to come when we use ordinary Bread and Wine in such a mundane way? At these hours, I don't expect Him but He surprises me with healing, helping, forgiving, and saving.
God's alien work is the Law and it's to drive you to His proper work which you find in His command that you can stop being afraid and promise that your Father has been pleased to give you heaven. The Law that the Son of Man returns for us when we don't expect Him is to drive us to all the other unexpected times He told us we can expect Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20220828); Luke 12:31-40