I’ve been robbed!
There are actually two times in my life when I have been the victim of a robbery. The first was less stressful, because I simply returned home and found that some items had been taken. The second time was more menacing because I was actually in the presence of the armed robbers at the time. Both occurrences left me feeling angry and violated. It is for this reason, that I find it difficult to believe that Jesus compares Himself to a thief. Thieves are criminals who take what belongs to someone else without payment or permission. Why would Jesus want to be identified as one of those?
In our Gospel, Jesus states, “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus is coming like a thief in the night. It all seems rather clandestine and dishonest. I found this a very curious image for Jesus until I considered more deeply the context. Who is Jesus stealing from and what is He taking?
In the first half of our Gospel, Jesus relates that what (or in fact who) is being stolen is people. “Two will be in the field; one will be taken . . . two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken.” Jesus, the thief, is stealing us! Throughout history the Lord has taken people from many walks of life. But if we are the loot that is being stolen, from whom are we being taken?
It is here that answers for each of us may differ. Clearly, Jesus wants to take us from whomever or whatever may have or control us. For one person it may be money or greed that controls. Another person may be captive to ambition or recognition. Some may be led by friends or family members. Ultimately, each of us has various ways in which we are controlled or reasons why we may feel trapped. Jesus, like a robber, wants to liberate us from the attachments or structures that would work to control or enslave people. Jesus may be taking me, but that “taking” is liberation rather than a capture. This is not simply a robbery; we are dealing with a rescue mission where captives are being taken from their captors.
This image of Jesus makes much more sense to me. Jesus is not a robber to be feared, but a Redeemer Who takes people away from attachments that may control them and gives us a chance to experience freedom and peace. When Jesus appears, often unexpectedly, it is to transform lives and give new hope. The Holy Thief does not come to take from us, but to take us to a better place: a place of freedom, or peace, or mercy, or love.
Let us suppose that we have certain attachments. I may be too attached to what others think of me. This attachment leads me to take no risks or rock no boats because I want to fit in. If Jesus steals me away then I may find the freedom to be myself and sometimes go against the crowd. If my attachment is to partisan politics (as many experienced in the recent election), that may keep me from embracing the values that Jesus teaches that are contrary to my party’s platform. If I am fearful of “my candidate” losing, then I can never be a prophetic voice to challenge the members of my own group. When Jesus steals us away, we are free to boldly stand up for the values of the Gospel, even if it means challenging the party that we usually support. Lastly, I may be attached to a certain place. I have my friends and family around me. I am comfortable and useful where I am, why would I ever have to change? Again the Holy Thief comes along and steals us away, and now we are free to be missionaries anywhere. The Lord may want us to go where there is a greater need and our liberation can help us to be willing to go. These are just a few examples of attachments that can trap us in fear of change or loss.
I know that in my life I have allowed certain attachments to dominate my decisions. If I am controlled by fear of losing someone, or something, I am not truly free to make the best choices. I believe that our Savior is working on me every day to “steal me away” from those elements of my life that would try to dominate or enslave me. In reality, I want to fully belong to God. I want the Lord to welcome me into Jesus’ loving heart, where none can ever take me away again.