The Tables are Turned, Luke 12:32-40

A sermon preached on August 7, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

The entirety of the twelfth chapter of Luke has Jesus speaking to a crowd of many thousands[1]. The primary overall focus of the chapter is God is coming soon and the people had best be prepared. Hear the Word of the Lord!

Luke 12:32-40

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[2]

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus teach about how we are not store up treasures on earth but instead store up treasures in heaven and live lives rich towards God. Today, Jesus answers the question of how we are to do that and shares with us what happens when we do. He does this by using one Story and two parables.

Let’s first look at the Story.

In Zen Buddhism, there is a technique to train new disciples. The master asks the student to answer a question or address a paradoxical statement that does not appear to make apparent sense. It’s called a koan. The koan is used to force the disciple to look at an issue from a totally new perspective by making a statement or question appear nonsensical with no rational answer. Its purpose is to challenge the disciple’s assumptions on an issue, and when done correctly, the koan leads to greater enlightenment. Here are a few examples.

Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?’

The teacher asks the student, “Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?” The student replies, “I always remember springtime in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.[3]

In verses 32 – 34, we note that Jesus is speaking using a koan-ish type statement. It doesn’t seem to make sense on the face of it and pushes members in the crowd to wrestle with what they think Jesus means. Jesus first starts with an imperative, “Do not be afraid, little flock” but then he tells the little flock to sell what they have and give the proceeds to the poor and destitute. Paradoxically, when they do, they get new purses with an inexhaustible treasure in heaven. The disciple may then ask Jesus, “you tell me not to be afraid, but we’ve sold what we have and have given the money away to the poor only to find that we are now financially poor ourselves. And what’s this about us providing a purse that doesn’t wear out? What’s to put into it if I’ve liquidated all my assets?”

These types of responses reflect a disciple’s first-level thinking. First-level thinking is when we take things at their face and literal value. It’s also called binary thinking in that a person sees something in this way, or, they see it that way. It’s either/or thinking.[4] Jesus uses these odd stories and parables to push his disciples out of first-level, binary thinking of this/that and either/or. The koan-like Stories and parables require the student to dig deeper into the meaning that is at first glance hidden. Thankfully, Jesus provides them, and us, a lifeline to understanding it when he says, “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The meaning of this loaded instruction is this:

There’s no need for any fear. Trust me on this. Attend to the needs of those who are worse off than yourself and be God’s hands in caring for the ones the world will not. You won’t be filling a literal purse with money but that purse of yours, your heart will be stuffed with the blessings of God in heaven. Why? Because God sees what is truly important in your life and that’s simply loving others as God loves you.

Jesus follows this teaching with two brief parables. The first one reinforces the koan Jesus just shared and then he describes how God actually practices what God preaches. And both of the parables deal with anticipation and readiness.

Verses 35 – 38 paint a picture of the need for readiness in our lives to meet God face-to-face. But there’s a twist to it. The servants are waiting for the lord of the estate to come home from a wedding banquet. Wedding ceremonies and celebrations in those times could often last a weeklong. Consequently, the servants had no idea when the lord of the estate was coming back so they were to be in a state of vigilance and be prepared to celebrate the lord’s return home at any moment. 

This parable, like others in Luke 12, seems to allude to what we call, “the second coming of Christ.” God’s coming and each of us will have to give an accounting for our lives at Judgement, so we better be ready!

So often, American evangelicalism has painted Christ’s coming in a dour, violent way. Often portrayed through turn-or-burn theology, i.e., get your life right or you’re going to hell if you are not ready for Judgment time! We see the second advent of Jesus as a scary thing, an event we are to fear and be ready for or else! But in our parable today, I can see that with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face, Jesus gives the parable a subtle twist. Did you catch it?

The lord of the estate has been celebrating a wedding, perhaps his own. The servants are back on the estate taking care of everything so when the lord of the estate comes back, everything will be ready to give him a rousing welcome home party whether it’s during the day or even it the lord of the estate comes in the middle of the night. And what happens when the lord returns home? His servants provide him with a banquet.

No, actually, they don’t.

The twist is that the lord of the estate comes home and serves the servants. The Master arrives and finds his servants eagerly waiting for him, and so to repay them for their eager preparedness as they awaited his homecoming, the lord of the estate tells the servants to go wash and then sit at the table while he, the lord of the estate, changes clothes and then comes and serves the servants a banquet! Jesus then follows this up with a parable about being alert and ready for burglars so as to reinforce what he just taught in the first parable.

 Beloved, do you hear the Good News and grace in those parables? Jesus is saying that at the culmination of time when we all face the Lord, our being prepared for his return in the way we love the least of these in our midst will result in Jesus telling us to sit down while he prepares and serves us a banquet! The tables are turned. Instead of our throwing a party for the master, the master out of sheer joy that his disciples are doing what they are supposed to be doing, throws the disciples a party instead! What a plot twist!

In essence, our Lord’s Supper is a living diorama of this story and parables. Jesus sold everything in his life and gave it to the poor. He supported the poor with the very giving of his life so that the destitute can live. He wants us to have the same attitude. We are to empty ourselves of ourselves and throw our energy into loving others in our community. We are to give ourselves so others can live. This is how we show Jesus we ‘get’ what he’s talking about. Our hearts invested in the love of our neighbor shows where our true treasure is. The result? Jesus Christ throws a banquet for us, and as our host, he gladly serves us around this table. Why? Because we prepared for his arrival. Because we invested our lives into what matters – others. It’s when we invest our lives in others that we then in turn demonstrate we are rich toward God.

So, my friends, Jesus tells us three stories and then he lived those Stories out in his own life. Jesus practices what he preaches. He asks you and me to do the same.  This meal is our way of being celebrated by God but it’s also s time we celebrate the Lord.  In the name of the One who is, was, and shall evermore be. Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33301, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.


[1] Luke 12:1.

[2]New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

[3] See https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/what-is-a-koan/

[4] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now. Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009), 32.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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