The Roman watch was three hours long. The night was divided into four watches. The master will give no advance notice. He might return in the second or even the third watch (nine p.m. to midnight or midnight to three a.m.).

To the unwatchful ones. the Lord's return will be unexpected and even unwelcome, as that of a thief in the night (Rev. 3:3). But for those who are ready and waiting, it will be a joyful occasion. The master will treat slaves like equals, having them recline at table, coming alongside them to serve them food—in a reversal of the master/slave role at table. A man would do this with his equal and honored guests, but never with his slaves.

So have your loins girded, your lamp burning, and one more thing. Be waiting by the door because the thief is coming. After the brief parable about the watchful and unwatchful slaves, Jesus uses an unusual analogy of a thief in the night for the coming Son of Man (12:39-40). A burglar digs through a clay wall and breaks into the house. The householder would have been waiting if he had known when he was coming. He would not be taken by surprise but would have watched and protected his house.

The Son of Man is like a burglar in a deeper way than just his unannounced arrival time. He returns to steal our false priorities and overturn our unjust structures. He returns to toss our complacency and lack of urgency. We will never be the same again, nor will our house, once he returns. Unless our home already has mise en place for the kingdom of God—priorities set on God's agenda and not our own, willingness to forgive others as God has forgiven us, compassion for the poor, and the habit of constant prayer. If all those habits and priorities are in place in our homes and lives, the Son of man will have nothing to steal, but much to work with.

Sources Consulted

Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series (Chesterton, Indiana: Conciliar Press, 2010).

H. A. Ironside, Luke: An Ironside Expository Commentary (Originally published in 1920. Reprinted in 2007 by Kregel Publications)