Jesus tells his disciples about two kinds of servants. One servant will be prepared when his master comes home. No matter what time his master arrives the meal will be ready and the other servants will be prepared. The master will express his gratitude by inviting the steward to dine with him. The other steward is irresponsible and is not prepared for the time when his master returns. His master will punish him and send him to be with the unfaithful. Then Jesus said: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Then Peter said: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Jesus continues with short parables of servants awaiting the arrival of the master, the master not knowing when the thief is coming and a steward in charge of his master’s servants. The phrase “gird your loins” expresses the stance of readiness the disciples should have. It comes from the Exodus when the Israelites were told to eat the Passover meal “with your loins girt.” They had to tuck their robes up and tuck them under their belts so their legs were free to run (Ex. 12:11). The Son of Man will come, however, at an unknown hour, so disciples must be prepared. The mention here of the “Son of Man” as an explanation of the preceding sayings identifies Jesus with the master whose arrival the servants are awaiting. In another role reversal, the passage also describes the “Son of Man” as the thief; the hour of whose coming is not known by the owner of the house.
Jesus answers with a question of his own: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward which the master will put in charge?” This is an indirect way of saying that he is addressing Peter and the Twelve, whom he has chosen for leadership positions in the restored Israel. They and those who come after them must serve as “trustworthy” stewards. Like the vigilant servants, such a responsible servant leader is blessed and his master on his arrival puts him in charge of all his property. Joseph in the Old Testament is an example of a wise servant who was “put in charge.” Joseph collected grain beyond measure and handed it out during the years of famine. Only Pharaoh was more powerful than Joseph. The Twelve literally carry out this task in the early church and passed on the task to their followers. Spiritually this task of church leaders refers to nourishing the faithful in a fitting way with the word (readings) and the Eucharist (consuming the body and blood of Christ).
The opposite of the faithful steward is the servant who begins to beat the other servants, to eat and drink like the rich fool and even get drunk. The master who arrives unexpectedly will beat him severely and will then put him with the unfaithful. This two-step punishment ultimately refers to the judgment of the wicked at Jesus’ second coming, which is delayed, but will come. The warning of punishment here applies more directly to the failed leadership in Israel, who will beat the apostles before Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans. The servant who knowingly fails to do the master’s is beaten severely, while the one who is ignorant will not be punished much at all. “Hence, to whom more is entrusted, more is demanded.”
Those in positions of leadership have therefore even more reason to fear God. As St. Augustine says: “I’m terrified by what I am for you, but I am given comfort by what I am with you (God).” For you I am a bishop, with you…..I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation.” And commenting on this passage in Luke, St. Ambrose writes: “It seems to be set before priests, whereby they know that they will suffer severe punishment in the future, if, intent on worldly pleasure, they have neglected to govern the Lord’s household and the people entrusted to them.”