I’ve been reflecting on the passage from the Gospel of Luke 12:35ff this week where Jesus says the words,
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be 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… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I am particularly drawn to the line, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” and am trying to meditate on what it means to put this into practice.
One of the standards interpretations of this text goes one of two ways: either it is about the end times or it is about one’s own death. “Be ready at any moment, God could take you home.” Or, “You better get your act together, Christ could return at any moment the end of the world will ensue.” Both of these readings are rooted in a fear-based vision of God, and I don’t find either particularly helpful or compelling for my own spiritual growth and reflection about how to live now. I don’t believe this is text about being afraid of God returning and catching us doing something we’re not supposed to, nor do I think we ought to live in fear of having our lives taken from us at any moment.
I think the point is much more simple: pay attention, stay awake, the Son of Man can visit you in and through all kinds of situations, people, and experiences and you don’t want to miss it.
It reminds me of the passage in Hebrews, “you may be entertaining angels unaware,” or the passage in Matthew “When did we serve you, Lord?”
Just this past week while on a motorcycle ride, my friend who I was traveling with was hit by a car. We were headed to the Blue Ridge where we planned to ride into the Maggie Valley. We got on to a very curvy road with many difficult turns, but one in particular turn had a blindspot. From what I can tell, he misjudged the turn, drifted over the yellow line, and was his by an oncoming car coming around the corner. He was thrown from his bike and got his hand trapped underneath the car that hit him. The driver of the car had to back the car up to get him free. I was riding behind him, watching the whole thing happen.
As you can imagine, this was a scary scene. Thankfully, my buddy was able to get back up on his feet pretty quickly after the accident so we could get him off the road. While he was in an extreme amount of pain, he was able to stand up! Before long the ambulance was there, along with the Fire Department, and an officer from the Highway Patrol. Many people stopped to help direct traffic, check on us, and offer help.
What I learned later: there had been three motorcycle deaths at the very corner in the past 2-3 years. I noticed sometime after the accident that fifteen feet from where my friend’s bike laid in ruin stood a small cross with the name of a young person who died there just two years ago. When I saw that, I remembered right after the accident there a was a man who said his name was Joey, helping direct traffic and make sure that everyone on the side of the road was safe. He told me his son died on a motorcycle on this turn 2 years ago. Shortly after speaking with Joey he left. Afterward, looking back down at the cross wrapped in wreaths of flowers, it said that the motorcyclist died in 2017.
Thinking about this experience, I could read this text from Luke in light of either interpretation above, but it was far more useful for me to be ready and aware in the moments following the accident. I kept reminding myself in those moments to pay attention, make sure everyone was safe and okay, be a calming presence, keep checking in on people. Now, many days after the accident, talking with my friend and hearing of his recovery (he had no broken bones but suffered plenty of bruising and swelling), I look at the grace that covered us that day. I know exactly what could have happened, and what has happened to others. And I see how “lucky” we were, how many people were there to help us, and all of the things that went right in the face of this trauma. As I look back on that day, I see so many moments in which “The Son of Man” was among us.
As I start my fifth year at Guilford College, I know that especially right now as school is just about to start, it is hard to remain present, be aware. It is so easygoing get into a rush and stop listening to the Inward Teacher. When this happens, I begin to drift. I want to be both graceful with myself when I fail to be ready with a lit lamp, but I also don’t want to stop practicing. Being aware, “dressed for action with my lamp lit,” means to me to have a practice of deep inward listening, and authentic, patient response. It means paying attention and taking the advice to “notice what you notice.” It reminds me of the works of Parker Palmer:
Every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who want to lay a claim on our lives. -A Hidden Wholeness (P.19)
Questions for Reflection:
- I wonder for you what helps you to be ready, centered, and aware at a moments notice?
- What can you put in place in your own practice to help you have your lamp lit at all times?
- Are you aware of what it feels like to be in touch with the source of truth within?