“Gird your loins and light your lampsand be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.”Luke 12:35-38
The ancient Eastern language of “girding the loins” summons an image of intense readiness for battle. Ankle-length tunics gathered above the knees, wrapped around the waist, and tied together freed the body for vigorous work. Military watches divided the night into periods in which sentinels kept guard with lamps in hand. The Jews divided the night into three watches and the Romans into four. In either division, the third watch ended well past midnight, at 3 a.m. or sunrise.
Living faith requires watchfulness and perseverance, as in a marriage bond. The master’s return from a wedding is significant, as the Prophets describe the Lord as a husband and lover (Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:16 or 18). The Song of Songs also celebrates the nuptial relationship between God and his people. The beloved stays awake all night, like a sentinel waiting for her lover. In the parables of the watchful servants and the ten virgins, masculine and feminine strength are combined to produce a powerful image of the faithful disciple.
The joyful master surprises his faithful servants upon his return by girding himself and treating them to a feast. The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity.
Sentinels, gird your loins with lamps alight!
Listen for the knock,
Keep watch through the night.
Traditional Chinese Translation