Mise en Place: Reflections on Luke 12:32-40

Lectionary Reflections
Luke 12:32-40
August 11, 2013

I recently visited my husband's Great Uncle Bob and Great Aunt Catherine in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania. Their home is not a huge home in a fancy neighborhood, but it is a lovely red brick house on a side street. Due to the comfortable furniture, bright curtains, and family pictures, it does not have a museum quality feel to it. And yet, walking into it you get a feeling of a home that is neat, clean, and well kept. It has everything in its place and a place for everything.

The term mise en place is a French term that means "putting in place." Our oldest daughter Melissa graduated from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Austin a few years ago. The graduation speaker, one of her classmates, offered a wonderful address called "Mise en place." He used it as a metaphor for the art of cooking. You have your work station, and all the tools of your cooking craft laid out around it. It is clean. It is orderly. It is ready. He then used it as a metaphor for the art of living. Whatever aspect of life you're involved in, have what you need assembled and at hand, and be ready to do your best.

This text is a Mise en place guide for the return of Christ. It is a combination of sayings about heavenly priorities and earthy peace (12:32-34), along with a brief parable (12:35-38; also in Mk. 13:34-36). Right before it is the "Have no anxiety" passage. Right after it is the parable of the faithful and unfaithful slaves. The message of this juxtaposition is: Don't be anxious. Just be ready! And the way to pull that off is a spiritual version of Mise en place. Have all the preparations for the returning Lord completed and in place. We've seen the joke "Jesus is coming back soon. Look busy." Looking busy isn't enough. When he returns let him find mise en place.

How to be ready? You need to make sure your treasure (your heart) is in the right place, for starters. And then gird your loins. The context of this parable is first-century wedding customs. The bridegroom at a wedding ceremony would go forth to meet his bride and return with her to his own home. His servants would be properly attired, their loins girded, and their lights burning as they waited eagerly for him to bring his bride back to his home; so we are to maintain an attitude of expectancy while we wait for the return of Jesus. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching.

In that time, men wore long, loose, flowing garments (Farley, 254). In order to work, they had to gird their robes about their waists to permit freedom of movement. Waiting servants must live with their flowing clothes tied about their waists so they can spring into action for their master at a moment's notice. They must also keep their lamps full of oil and burning, so that they can see to respond instantly should their master return in the middle of the night. Only by living in such readiness will they be prepared to welcome him properly when he comes home and knocks at the door.

H. A. Ironside, in his commentary on Luke says this: "There is nothing that has such a sanctifying influence on the soul as watching for the Lord's return." We are called to serve in faithfulness now. When Christ returns it will be his delight to minister to those who have endured and suffered for his name's sake during his present session at the Father's right hand. If we are watching and waiting, he will make us to sit down together and he will serve us (Ironside, 280).

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)

8/1/2013 4:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.