"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from a wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door when he comes and knocks...You too be ready; for the son of man is coming at an hour that you don't expect." Luke 12:35-36, 40. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you read a passage like this? The rapture? I would say that is a pretty safe guess if you live in the western world. But does that really make sense? Well, in one way it makes perfect sense. If you live in a part of the world that teaches about the rapture or some variation of "end-times" scenarios on a regular basis and has done so for a few generations, then of course this is going to be the first thing that pops into your head. But does it make sense out of the scriptures that we have been reading? Particularly, does it make sense out of what Luke has been telling us up to this point? Not at all. What has Luke been telling us? That Jesus is the way to get to heaven? No. Has Luke been telling us that the end of the world is near? No. Luke has been telling us that Jesus is the new Moses who is leading Israel out of her slavery to corruption and into the new creation which God had long ago promised. I.e. Jesus is the Messiah. Far from telling us that the world is near its end, Luke is actually telling us that the world's true Lord has finally arrived to make things right. So, what would you need be to ready to do in that scenario? You need to ready to flee your slavery at a moments notice like the Israelites did in the day when God first led them out of Egypt. The moment of liberation came in a flash and Israel had to be ready to get up and go. They couldn't even make a breakfast that required waiting for bread to rise. They had to be on their toes and ready to go. That is the nature of this "readiness" with which Jesus urges His followers. But why is there a need to be ready and to be paying attention? If God is rescuing the world, God is rescuing the world. He doesn't need the disciples help does He? No, I don't think He needs their help. However, it does seem that if they want to benefit from this coming liberation, they are going to need to be in tune, paying attention and ready for action. The Israelites of old did not negotiate their own freedom, they were delivered by the hand of God through Moses, but they had to be ready to follow Moses when he said "go". What else can we assume from Jesus' words except that He too perceived a moment when his followers are going to need to be on their toes waiting for the word "go". And this moment would happen, we can safely deduce, after Jesus had the decisive confrontation with the one who was enslaving God's people. Only this time it would not be a confrontation with Pharaoh and it would not even be first and foremost a confrontation with Rome or with Herod, but with a darker figure who sat behind those oppressive powers, the Satan, who accuses God's people day and night. The liberation was going to come from an unexpected source, which is how Jesus planned to win the battle. It was going to come as a surprise to everyone and it had to come that way, otherwise, their enemies would be on guard to keep their property from being stolen away. But of course, Jesus' own disciples might miss it too if they aren't on the look out, waiting for it and for the word "go". "You too, be ready; for the son of man is coming at an hour that you do not expect." Luke 12:40 "The son of man" is a reference to Jesus Himself but in a way that reveals to Jesus' disciples, as well as to Luke's readers, who Jesus believed He was and what his vocation was. In the book of Daniel chapter 7, we read about a vision that Daniel has of beasts rising out of the sea to oppress and destroy. But while Daniel is fixated on these awesome and terrible monsters, he also sees "the Ancient of Days" setting up "thrones" and then taking His seat on one of those thrones. Then, while the royal court is in session, judgment is rendered concerning the beasts and their authority is taken away from them and is granted to "One like a son of man" who is presented before the Ancient of Days: "And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His Kingdom is one which will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14). This long awaited moment of a dramatic change in power was coming, the kingdoms of the world were going to become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, but in a way that was going to take everyone off guard. Therefore, Jesus urged His followers to "Be dressed in readiness." "Happy is the slave whom His master finds so doing when He comes..." When Jesus says, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!" He is not saying that He wishes to burn up the world. He is speaking metaphorically about the coming battle with evil that He was going to fight. It was going to be a bloody contest and Jesus was eager to be done with it.
This is my paraphrase of what Jesus is saying: "Does this surprise you?" Jesus asks His followers, "Did you think that when I came it was going to be easy and peaceful? No. It's going to be a moment of great confrontation and division as people choose sides in the battle. Even the closest communities will be divided right down to fathers and sons." (Luke 12:49-53) This should remind us again about the need to read scripture in three dimensions and not simply in a flat wooden literalism. After all, didn't John the Baptist say that Jesus would "restore the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers"? He did, and Jesus does. But Jesus also divides. Both are true but one in one instance and another in another. The Bible is a very real book about real people, written by real people. When we try to attribute particular perceived qualities of "inerrancy" into the text, we tend to misunderstand, misappropriate, and distort what is actually written. Jesus unites and Jesus divides and it doesn't take too long to discover that both are true. In this case, Jesus divides because the means of fulfilling His vocation was so shocking as to be rendered repulsive and abhorrent to many. But Jesus urges His disciples to pay attention and to be ready so that they don't miss the coming exile from slavery. Jesus' little parable about someone making peace while being dragged to court, (Luke 12:58), is a warning to the disciples about the present time. If they did not pay attention, and if Israel did not pay attention, and if they did it repent of their violent nationalistic agenda for establishing God's Kingdom and taking up Jesus' surprising way, the results would be devastating and they will end up paying the piper in full. They could be forgiven for their rebellion but that opportunity will pass and then they will have their rebellious debt to pay. They will have Hell to pay. Be quick, be alert, be ready to lay it all down for the sake of the Kingdom.