If your church follows the Catholic (or Revised Common) Lectionary, last week you heard a parable from Luke about the servants waiting for their master to come home from a wedding. Then at the tail end of that parable, a funny little saying:
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come. — Lk 12:39-40
Our Youth Group gathered last Sunday for pizza and fellowship and we talked about this Gospel passage. The kids (mostly middle school age) were able to identify that the master in the first parable (who stood for God/Jesus) is NOT the same master in the second saying. Rather, the master in this proverb is every one of us– those who are waiting for the Son of Man to come. The gist of the whole reading is simply this: STAY ALERT. Because you never know when Christ is coming back. Got it.
But this little phrase has always struck me as a bit odd. Why can’t the master just lock his house all the time? He doesn’t need to know when a thief is coming, just that there is a possibility of a thief coming. So he can prepare, install a good alarm system, and sleep soundly. That’s what we do isn’t it?
And it’s not like ancient civilizations didn’t use locks. The Romans used them. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians had them. It has even been proposed that Mesopotamia was the birthplace of locks. So why not just lock the darn door?
Well the answer is: the master probably did. He probably had adequate locks on any windows and doors to take care of his estate; but even a well-to-do master cannot prevent a stealthy thief from digging into the sun-dried brick homes that most people had back then. A patient thief could literally dig his way into your house without much noise at all, then sneak off quietly through the same entry-point before anyone awoke. No locks or bar systems could detect that. So the only way to be 100% sure that your house wasn’t robbed was… to stay awake. That’s a sad truth for the poor master, who needs his sleep and isn’t omniscient.
But far from being a cool factoid, this image of the silently digging thief has stuck with me this week. It strikes me that this proverb is not only an exhortation to be alert for the End Times; it is a perfect visual description of how sin ever-so-quietly enters our lives.
For those of us concerned about such things, we may be aware of temptations and vices that would rob us “by the front door,” as it were. These are things that are obvious, things in our life that we know we are doing, things we know are wrong, and yet we get frustrated because we do them anyway. So in order to change, we “cut it off and throw it away” (as in Matthew 5:30). If we are struggling with addiction, we don’t even let ourselves go near alcohol or cigarettes. If we struggle with lust, we don’t hang out with those friends who are constantly watching porn. We lock the door.
But the more pernicious and deadly sins are those that we don’t even realize we’re committing, those sins which sneak in little by little as we sleep securely, thinking that we’ve got it all under control. It may start out as a harsh word said to someone out of anger and before you know it, your soul is so mired by anger that you say: “How could this happen?”
We must remain vigilant. We must remain awake. It’s very important to lock those doors. It’s crucial to the safety of our soul that we do not allow thieves to enter the easy way. But it’s also important that we don’t rest on our laurels, congratulating ourselves for that fancy new security system we just bought to protect ourselves from the thief with the giant sword, only to wake and find that we’d been completely robbed by the thief with a tiny spoon.