Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.
Luke 12: 37-8
Today’s passage from Luke has a bit of a surprising twist. It begins by speaking of the need for the master’s servants to be vigilant. But then, it reverses roles and tells us that when the master arrives he will wait on the servants. The master has become the servant to the servants. In our understanding to be a master is have power, and, as our lights would tell us, to be beneficent is to use that power for the good of others. (cf. Luke 22:25) Jesus’ perspective, however, is quite different. For him the master is a servant. When he arrives and is with those who are ready to receive him, he comes not with power but in service; he “waits on them.”
There are many forms of vigilance. A human being whose early formation took place in an uncertain and threatening environment will develop a propensity to hyper-vigilance, to be always on edge and looking for any intimation of a potential threat. There is also a type of over-vigilance, also springing from anxiety, that sees everything around one as one’s personal responsibility. It is an inability to trust God enough to recognize the limits of our own potency. The vigilance to which Jesus calls us, however, is much more that spoken of in Psalm 130: 6-7: “My soul waits for the Lord more than the watch waits for the dawn./ Let the watch wait for the dawn and Israel for the Lord.” The watch waits for the dawn in openness to receive what is being given. Since we are, by nature, anxious, this kind of waiting is no easy task for us.
As the master who takes the form of a servant in today’s gospel, the Lord will likely not come in the form we expect. In our anxious form, we cannot imagine that the One for whom we long longs even more to serve us, to wait upon us. We spend our life developing a sense of power and status to overcome our felt sense of deficiency. We must make something of ourselves because there is an essential flaw in the one whom God has created. Yet, the Lord reminds us that if we, in all our poverty, simplicity, and vulnerability keep vigil, then the “Master” will come and wait on us as the object of God’s love.
So often we associate the call to vigilance with the fearfulness of the master’s arrival, with the dread of the judgment that the Lord’s arrival will bring. Yet, we are told today that our fearful expectations are greatly mistaken. The One who will come will enter our lives as a servant, as one who waits on our deepest needs and longings. Thus, we can best recognize the Lord wherever one human being is waiting on the needs of another. The Lord is with us whenever we “manifest care and compassionate love to those who are separated and estranged, not only from their neighbors but from their own uniqueness; to those who suffer from want, neglect, and injustice: the poor, the weak, and the oppressed of this world.” So, we are most vigilant not when we are paralyzed by fear of our inadequacy and sinfulness, but when we are most generously and self-forgetfully waiting on the needs and deepest desires of each other. As Mother Teresa wrote to her Sisters:
This brings you Mother’s love, blessing and prayer for each one of you, that you may more and more grow in the likeness of Christ through meekness and humility, so that your Sisters in the Community and the Poor you serve feel His presence and His love in you and through you, and learn from you how to love Jesus in each other. (Come Be My Light, p. 298)