We Have a Job to Do audio (5MB)
Passage: Luke 12:35-48
First of all, I have a request to make of you all. If you’ve ever received payment for doing a job, raise your hand. So that’s quite a few of you. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever done a voluntary task or job. You might have noticed that the people you were serving or working for were grateful for your service, they might have praised you for doing a quality job. But you might also have noticed that your boss, or the person you were doing the job for, expected you to come through on your word and get the task done. You might be wandering, “what does making an agreement with my employer, or doing a voluntary task, have to do with the first century servants in the passage?” The answer is, they’re all examples of being given responsibility. All these roles involve being asked to carry out the wishes of the person you serve. Regardless of how all these people have been recruited, they all have a job to do.
As we read the first parable, in verses 35 to 40, there is one main command that Jesus gives to servants. The master in Jesus’ parable expects his servant to be ready when he comes.
But what does that mean? Ready for what? Ready for a fight? Perhaps ready for dinner? Or ready for bed? No, it’s not any of these. The master expects his servant to be ready for service. To be ready to fulfil their duties in his presence. To be dressed in their professional uniform, to have lamps burning to provide light for working, to be up at a moment’s notice to open the door for him. To be faithful to his command, waiting vigilantly for his return, because he will hold them accountable.Jesus gives us five examples of how a servant should be working faithfully in the absence of their master. To be ready, to be dressed for action, to have lamps lit, to be waiting, to open the door for the master. So why does it matter if the servant in this story is doing these things? Why does he or she need to have the lamps already going? Why does the door need to be opened the second the master knocks? I mean... is anything dire really going to happen if the servant isn’t in full uniform when the master comes home? Well the answer is: because the master said so. The servants need to have their lamps burning, they need to be up and ready to open the door, because that’s their job. That’s what their master has asked of them, and it’s their job to do it- even when the master can’t see them. Even though they may be there, doing their job, for hours or even days, before the master actually comes to receive their service. It’s for the master to make the request, and for the servants to fulfil it faithfully, without questioning. Everything we’ve talked about so far is what the master inJesus’ story demanded. But, take Sarah as an example...
Sarah is a young woman who loves children. Her neighbours John and Hannah have three young children, so naturally, when they were invited to a friend’s cocktail party, they asked Sarah to babysit. John and Hannah’s household is all about routine, and they prefer for their children to follow the same bedtime routine every night. So before they left, John said, “the baby has just been put to bed, so he should be fine, but you need to pick him up if he cries.” “The other children can watch TV for half an hour, then have a bath and go straight to bed. Please don’t let them talk after lights out, you will need to check on them to make sure they are quiet.” “No problem. Now you guys go and have fun”, Sarah said. After 30 minutes of TV and a quick bath, Sarah put the children to bed and then came back to the lounge room. She put on a movie, but kept one ear open. It wasn’t too long before Sarah heard the baby crying, so she went to investigate. Eventually she was able to settle him, and so she came back to the lounge room and resumed her movie. “He didn’t need to be changed and he wouldn’t take his bottle, then I realised he had dropped his pillow pet through the bars.” A little bit later, Sarah remembered what John had said about the older children talking after lights out, so she went to listen outside their door. After about ten seconds, she couldn’t hear any voices, so she went back to the lounge room thinking, “I haven’t even been in there to check on them yet, but they weren’t making a sound. They must have gone to sleep straight away, they’ll be fine.”Sarah had stopped concentrating on the movie and she had some reading for school, so she got out her book and put in her ipod headphones. She figured the kids were asleep by now, and if the baby cried again, she would hear him through her headphone. Except, after a while lying on an old couch, it can get uncomfortable, so Sarah decided the spare bedroom was a better place to do her reading.
Later that night, when John and Hannah came home from the party, they expected to find their children in bed and Sarah sitting in the lounge, faithfully listening for the sound of the baby crying, or the quiet chatting of the older children. They were proud of her for her generous service, and they were ready to praise her for a job well done. So what do you think happened when they walked in the door and were greeted with the sound of a screaming baby? When they found their children in the kitchen getting a snack? Or when they found Sarah asleep in the spare bed with headphone in her ears? She had taken on the job, she had made promises, but she wasn’t faithful to their request at all. Maybe you’ve been in a situation like this, where you had to ask yourself: am I working hard? Am I working enthusiastically? Or... am I just half-hearted, concentrating on something else at the same time? Would I rather be somewhere else?This is exactly the question Jesus would expect you to ask of the servant in this passage. Were they living up to the task their master gave them?
Were they working as if being watched, even when their master couldn’t see them? Basically, were they serving faithfully? Being a faithful servant seems to be one of Jesus’ main points in this short speech; right alongside his second instruction to servants.
Jesus says servants must not only be faithful they must also be: vigilant. In other words, in their guard, alert. But why should they be vigilant and on their guard? It’s not because their job involves armed combat and there’s an enemy on the horizon. It’s not because they’re watching for signs of fire, or may need to evacuate due to emergency. Servants need to watch actively for their master’s return- it’s as simple as this. Jesus uses the word ‘ready’ four times in referring to a servant. But his references to readiness aren’t just about working constantly to serve the master. They are also warnings to be vigilant, constantly expecting the master’s return. Because a lazy servant caught by surprise will not make their master happy. So when your master could be around the corner at any time, you need to keep focussed, because there will be a time when they come back and surprise you. Now... being alert and watching out for an approaching car, or the sight of your master walking up the road, might seem pretty easy. All you have to do is keep one eye out the window and look busy most of the time. Simple. But the master Jesus is talking about has been at a wedding, so his journey might have lasted days, maybe even a week or more. Of course a servant will get tired and sick of watching the road outside after weeks, waiting for a master who doesn’t seem to be coming. And maybe, if the master came home in a timely manner, it would be easy for the servant to stay alert. This is just like with a homeowner- It’s one thing if they know what time a thief is planning to break into their house. If that were you, wouldn’t you be up around that time, and dressed, and surrounded by your family members? Doors and windows barricaded, ready to ring the police? It’s when you don’t know the day or time that you get caught out. If you don’t believe me, wait until you hear what happened to Hannah and Matt.
Hannah and Matt were house sitting for some friends who were away for the week. Being January and an extreme heat wave, they decided to leave the fridge open to cool down the house. Just one small problem with this- “it turns out that leaving the door open for too long overloads the motor!” When Hannah discovered this, she said “Matt, we broke the fridge. We have to call a repairman!” Matt was way ahead of her, and had just made the call. “But they’re really busy this week, so they’ll just have to drop in whenever they get a chance. Should be sometime between 9am (on Monday) and 6pm (on Friday)” Matt said. “I’m pretty booked up... so I’ll need you to stick around and let the repairman in.” Hannah tried to protest, but Matt insisted. “If you don’t, they’ll leave and they won’t fix the fridge, and then the house’s owners will come home and find out we left it open because we didn’t realise it wasn’t an air conditioner.” So when Monday morning came, Hannah got herself ready, gathered the collection of library books she had borrowed, stocked the pantry up with enough food for a week, and prepared herself to wait. She waited very well on the first day- with enough materials to stay occupied and productive, she even enjoyed being at home all day. “Any sign of the repairman today?” Josh asked when he came home that night. “No, not yet, but I’m prepared to wait until he does come”. Hannah said. And wait she did. All of Tuesday and half of Wednesday she waited at home, gradually running out of things to occupy her and getting pretty bored. On Wednesday afternoon, Hannah said to herself, “The repairman still has 2 and a half days to get here, he probably won’t even come today”. She had just finished watching season 1 of Sherlockand she just had to rent the next one. “It’s only a fifteen minute walk” she said to herself. “There’s no way he’ll come and go again in such a short amount of time”. So off she went... and there were no missed calls. No note on the door. No sign that the repairman had come at all when she returned. Hannah was pretty pleased with herself. “I’ve got Sherlock to watch, and I’ll still be here waiting for the repairman when he comes. How good am I at time management?” By Thursday, Hannah was pretty tired of staying at home on her own. So when her friend Sarah gave her a call and said “A bunch of us are going to the movies, do you want to come? We haven’t seen you in days!”, she decided she could take the risk. “The repairman didn’t come yesterday while I was out, and he still has all of tomorrow... he will probably come then.”
When she came home from the movies, there was still no sign that the repairman had come yet. Hannah had begun to feel like he would never come! So instead of sticking around, wasting her time, she went over to her friend Sarah’s place to stay the night. Hannah had been waiting so long that she forgot that the repairman’s arrival was imminent. She forgot that he had promised to come during the week, and that it could mean any time in the week.
And what do you think happened on Friday morning when the repairman arrived at an empty house? Well clearly, this is a what-not-to-do example for servants. Jesus reminds servants to always be on their guard. If they’ve been waiting a long time, that just means the day of their master’s return is getting closer. As Hannah discovered, the longer you wait, the more important it is to be ready. That’s what it looks like to be a devoted and prepared servant; Working faithfully and vigilantly, as Jesus outlines in verses 35 to 40.
But then Peter asks the question: Who is Jesus actually talking to? You might be thinking the same thing. Jesus doesn’t really give an answer to Peter’s question, but instead he gives him an example. “Well who is the faithful and prudent manager whom the master will put in charge?” Don’t you love it when Jesus answers a question with another question? But maybe you can see that this hypothetical story about the servant who the master put in charge does answer Peter’s question. The master of a household in the first century AD may have had lots of servants, working inside and outside of the house, carrying out a whole range of different jobs. It’s like running a business, or managing a company- that’s how many personnel the master is dealing with. So he needs a second in command- someone to represent him while he’s away. Someone who’s on board with his ideals, and will work in a way that reflects him. Someone he can trust and he has a relationship with. And this person has a responsibility to care for the master’s household the same way the master would. This servant is expected not only to wait vigilantly for the master’s return and work faithfullyon his behalf. They also have a special responsibility to act with integrity towards those under them because their master will hold them accountable for their behaviour. But let’s think about who our equivalent is of the loyal servant. The master Jesus was referring to is himself.
So who has he chosen to represent him and care for his household? It might be tempting to leave these instructions to the vicar of a church, or even the bishops and overseers of large groups of churches. We might think that only the person at the very top of the hierarchy is accountable to our master. But given that the household of Jesus is all of his followers, then who is it that actually needs to take note of the advice he gives to servants in command? Well, anybody who has a role in leadership over others in the household. Anybody who cares for, teaches or takes responsibility for those around them, as Jesus instructed. This leadership plays out in heaps of different areas within our church community. For example:
Are you a Tom’s Crew leader? Then you are a servant in leadership over others. Do you teach or help at Sunday club?You’re a servant in leadership over others. Do you give kids talks in church? Do you lead at youth? Are you on the MOPS team? Or maybe you do child minding at MOPS? Do you do prayer ministry? Have you been mentoring a younger or newer believer?
If you ever lead Eucalypts, Mike’s Mates, or run the study in your small group, you’re a servant in leadership over others. If you service lead, if you lead worship as part of a music team, read the bible, welcome the congregation, pray or lead in other ways at church. In fact, anybody who has taken part in the service today is a servant in leadership over others. It’s not just wardens, vestry, staff and task groupmembers. So can you see the warning Jesus gives to servants applies to us as individuals? How many members of this congregation have been placed in a role of leadership or authority over other members of the church? A lot, as we just saw. It looks different for each person, some people have large responsibilities; some have small responsibilities. So what does it mean for us? We know that our master holds the servant in charge accountable, so that makes it all the more important that we continue to be both faithful and vigilant. Should we fall into the same trap as the servant in verses 42-46?
Can we disregard our master’s instructions and ignore the tasks or people we are responsible for? Like Sarah, who was asked to faithfully stay up in case the children needed her, but instead did the opposite? Or should we just forget that the master might return any time, and begin to live like he’s never coming back? Like Hannah, who instead of waiting attentively for the repairman, let her guard down and went off to have fun? Or can we abuse our privileges and mishandle what the master has entrusted us with? Well no, we shouldn’t. To live up to our responsibility as servants of Jesus, we need to be working at the job he has given us with faithfulness. So this means reflecting our master at all times. Living lives that please him and give glory to him. Not forming rivalries in the household, not mistreating other believers, not indulging ourselves before seeing to the needs of others.For example, if one youth leader disrespects or undermines another, they are setting a poor example for the young people in their care. They are causing division in the household, instead of faithfully building it up. And if those young people in turn went to Tom’s Crew, where they were in charge of younger believers, and badmouthed the staff of the church, they would be turning members of the household against its leaders. So it’s crucial that we live up to the responsibility Jesus has given us. I received an email recently from a newcomer who had been trying out the youth group. They commented on the enthusiasm and love with which they had been cared for, both by the group members and by those in leadership. These characteristics had stood out to them, and they called it a lovely example of Christianity. This person had seen our master reflected in us. Let this be a motivationto you, adults, but also to the youth and kids.
Let’s keep striving to serve in the role we have each been called to do, taking it seriously, doing it gladly, and living up to the requirements of the task. We also need to be working at our job with vigilance. This means making our role within the household a priority. Looking for ways to do it well and keeping focused. Not carrying out our jobs to a low standard, not forgetting our commitment to the master, as if he’s not coming back. But remembering that Jesus expects a lot from us. Many believers I grew up with were passionate about Jesus in their youth, and were even keen to take on more responsibility in his household. But since then, they have demoted their master, given him reduced status, made him a low priority in their lives. Although they were given much teaching and responsibility, they took what their master gave them for granted. We at St Thomas’ have been given great opportunities to learn about Christ and to serve him, so let’s do our job well. Let’s make the most of what we’ve been given and be prepared for his return.Remember, as verse 40 warns us: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”When we take on the task of leadership within his church, he expects us to carry out our tasks with faithfulness, and with vigilance. As servants who have been trained and given responsibility in the household, we should be serving actively, because we have a job to do.