IF Jesus is a Thief Then…
Luke 12: 32 – 40
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church August 11, 2019
“Fear not little flock,” Jesus says. “Fear not.” But we know that whenever we hear those words, everything is about to change.
“Fear not” says an angel to an unmarried teenager woman when she is about to learn that she will carry and birth God’s son.
“Fear not” says an angel to Joseph when he is about to learn that he will have to embrace all the shame a world can throw at him yet find a way to hold up his head, and even more importantly stand by his fiancé.
“Fear not” says an angel to a group of rowdy – probably even drunken – shepherds, when they are told that good news has come to them. To them! The ones who are perpetually at the bottom of the list when it comes to receiving good news.
They are also the same words that God said to Abraham and Sarah as God led them from place to place. The words the angel spoke to Hagar when she was certain she and her son would die, having been abandoned by the child’s father. For Hagar and Ishmael, everything would change.
They are the words Joseph spoke to his brothers when they came to beg for food. When they came to beg for food from the one they had abandoned, he offered them peace and freedom from fear. But they would have to find a new way to live as brothers.
“Fear not” said Moses after leading the enslaved peoples through the water to freedom. “Fear not” he said, though they did not know what they would eat or where they would find water, or what it would be like to live as free people. The one thing that was certain was that “they weren’t in Egypt anymore.”
“Fear not, little flock,” says Jesus, and then he serves them – if Luke’s memory is correct – a strange assortment of teachings. First a reminder about simplicity, about what it is you love. What do you love? The things you can buy, the things of this world? Or something more? Something greater?
Then he offers two stories, a little something for everyone.
First, he tells of the servants who stay away waiting for the master to come home from the wedding celebration. A wedding would last for days, so the servants would have no idea when to expect their master to show up. They needed to be vigilant, watchful, because whenever he stumbles to the door, and knocks (He knocks – that’s kind of funny, too. I guess he forgot his key!), he will be tired, and smelly and dirty. But this is God’s kin-dom, and in God’s kin-dom, we are to expect the unexpected. This master is not like any other. Look what this master does! He rolls in just before sunrise. He takes off his tuxedo, and puts on his jeans and a t-shirt. He tells his exhausted employees to kick back. Then he throws on an apron, and he cooks scrambled eggs and hash browns and turkey bacon and he makes pots of coffee, and he waits on them. The last become first and the first chooses to become last. Because that’s how God loves us with a love of compassion and mutuality. God serves to show us how to serve. We love because God first loved us.
Do not be afraid, little flock. God sees how hard you labor. God sees that you are staying awake in the waiting time. God sees how you feed the hungry, and advocate for the oppressed, and love the immigrant and care for those who suffer. And God knows you labor despite your own seasons of sorrow or pain. And God comes in just before sunrise, and prepares a meal for us, week after week after week. A meal where we can be fed and reminded that all of our labor is so small compared to all that Jesus experienced on this earth. The meal at which our God is both servant and host.
“Don’t be afraid, little flock,” for God is a loving God who sees your faithfulness and comes to feed you.
But then we have to wonder, did Luke get it right? Did Jesus really offer this beautiful parable back to back with such a strange allegory? Did this diverse group need two different options that day? Did Jesus look at those faces and know that some needed to hear a different word?
We go from God, the master who waits on his servants, to Jesus the thief who breaks into your house when you are not paying attention. Wait, Jesus the thief? How is that compatible with “Do not fear, little flock?” Thieves are scary! I don’t want thieves breaking into my home! Maybe I need more locks!! Hear these words again: Jesus says, “If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he wouldn’t have allowed his home to be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.”
But if Jesus is a thief, then we should want him to break in…what if we pretend to be asleep so that he will break in? He can peek in through the window, see us “sleeping,” and break in! Then we can jump up and say, “surprise!” That would be fun. That would show him that we are ready!
So could it be that there are two stories because there are both servants and homeowners? The servants, those who have so little, who are so faithful, will be seated at the table, fed and nourished by the master’s hands. The homeowner, on the other hand, needs to be shocked, needs to be caught off guard. If she had been watching, if she had been vigilant, she would have locked the door to Jesus instead of letting him in. She would have checked her “Ring” doorbell or her “Blink” system for intruders. In an effort to be safe, she would have kept out the very One who is safety. In an effort to preserve her life, she would have excluded the One who is life.
The servants need nurture and rest. The homeowner needs disruption, maybe a little – if not fear – then a good old adrenalin rush? God gives to each of us the gifts we need for the moment in which we find ourselves. Perhaps you need feeding. Perhaps you need disrupting.
And so we ask, if Jesus is a thief, what is it then that he comes to steal? Wouldn’t it be great if thieves just took the stuff you didn’t want? All that stuff you don’t know what to do with? My mother had a painting she had to hang on the wall every time my great aunt came over. Mom hated that painting, but she didn’t dare say that! Wouldn’t it have been great if a thief had stolen that one painting so my mother could have traveled a little lighter? Maybe those kind of burdens are exactly what Jesus would steal. The stuff we don’t need, the stuff that distracts us, the stuff that makes us feel anxious all the time. And maybe it goes even further than that.
Alyce McKenzie, on her blog Edgy Exegesis writes this:
The Son of Man is like a burglar in a deeper way than just his unannounced arrival time. He returns to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures. He returns to toss our complacency and lack of urgency. We will never be the same again, nor will our house, once he returns. Unless our home already has [everything in its place] for the kingdom of God—priorities set on God’s agenda and not our own, willingness to forgive others as God has forgiven us, compassion for the poor, and the habit of constant prayer. If all those habits and priorities are in place in our homes and lives, the Son of man will have nothing to steal, but much to work with.
If Jesus is a thief, then he is the one thief we want in our homes! Let’s leave our doors unlocked, put up signs that say, “Lots to steal here!” He is the thief we need; the one who frees us from all that prevents us from living in wholeness with ourselves and one another. He is the one who frees us from everything that prevents us from living as God’s radical disciples.
Servants and homeowners, God knows all our needs. Listen for those words “Fear not,” and know that when you hear them, your life will never be the same.
Thanks be to our life giving God! Amen.