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Reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings

Staying up late

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23  •  Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22  •  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16  •  Luke 12:32-40

 

This week's gospel reading from Luke is a bit of a hodgepodge. It begins with a few verses about avoiding fear. Then Jesus continues with a story about a man returning home from a big party, and whether his servants are waiting. Then the story morphs into a really dark one, about the owner of the house and a thief. I'm going to focus now on the middle part of the reading, verses 34-38, beginning with the heart and then the story about the servants waiting.

 

The heart, as it is used in scripture, is more than a Hallmark valentine, more than feelings. It is a person's inner frame of both emotions and thoughts, and as Jesus is describing it here, also the seat of one's motivation. If you could put the things that matter to you in a paper bag, that paper bag is where your heart will be – an inner frame of what you will be thinking about, what you will care about, what you will act on. A person may act on requirements imposed from the outside, but in the end, one's own inner values, or lack of them, will bubble up.

 

And this is where the story of the servants comes in. It's set in a very different culture. Few of us have a staff waiting for us to come home from a party, to take care of us when we arrive, or have been a servant waiting for someone to come home. Many of us, though, have been in the position of needing to stay up late when it was inconvenient to do so.

 

When I was a child, staying up late was an unusual occurrence. The night of the Apollo moon landing, my father invited me to stay up to watch tv. He explained that this was an important night in human history, a major event, and that I would never forget it. Well, I tried. At first, I felt excited and vaguely interested. But after some time of sitting there listening to the mission control folks and the news commentators talking, I got up and said I wanted to go to bed. He encouraged me to stay up; but I was sleepy and went to bed.

 

In my story, my dad could (and did) enjoy the lunar landing without me. In the story Jesus is telling, though, the boss needs the servants to be awake when he gets home. Waiting up for someone to come home is easier if one happens to care about him and his life. A person may try to do something simply because it is a job responsibility, or a cultural or religious expectation.  Usually, though, once the circumstances get the least bit difficult, these half-hearted efforts are doomed to failure.  

 

A pure heart seems to matter a lot to Jesus. He credits us humans with the capacity to develop a pure heart: to notice what is in our paper bag of treasures and begin to attempt to change it. This is the hard part. Letting others regulate our own actions is so automatic for us as humans that it is difficult to think for ourselves. To add to the difficulty, trying to think for oneself can be experienced as "selfish" at first. But living one's life in a constant effort to meet external expectations, when one's heart is not in it, lands one squarely back in the corner of the those who fall asleep when they are needed. Selfish is different from self-aware. Keeping awake to oneself is the beginning of a pure heart.

 

For reflection

Morning: What is in my paper bag of treasures? What really matters to me today?

Evening: When did I live according to my own values?

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