This Reflection was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 20 October 2019. The readings that day were Jeremiah 31.27–34, 2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5 and Luke 18.1–8. You can read it again here:
‘And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ A very disturbing question to end the Gospel reading on today and one I am sure will continue to be debated until the Son of Man, Jesus, does return to earth again.
Today’s gospel is introduced with a parable about praying, about praying always and not losing heart. There are 2 hymns today, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind and O Lord hear my prayer, which have a special meaning for me. When I am in private prayer I very often begin with Dear Lord and Father and O Lord hear my prayer reminds me very fondly of past Sunday Taize services. This we sang in the form of a chant which we repeated over and over – praying and not giving up – persistent some may say; our story then moves on to justice and ends with the question about faith.
The parable Jesus tells, is about an unjust judge, who sort of lived his life in a reverse-great-commandment fashion. He neither loved God with his whole heart, nor his neighbour as himself. He had no respect for either, really. And then a woman came to him with a complaint – a complaint against someone who had done her wrong. The judge ignored her, at first. He cared nothing for her, or justice, for that matter. But the woman had a secret weapon – a secret weapon known to every child who ever saw an advert on telly and desperately wanted that brand new toy, or the prize in that box of cereal. That weapon was Pester Power. So, she pestered the judge; day and night, working time and holiday time; at the shops, and in his home, and on the road; and, finally, the judge gave in – not because, he had suddenly grown a heart, but because he was simply fed up with her pestering, her continued persistence. If that’s how an unjust judge responds to pestering, Jesus suggested, how much more will God himself, who loves justice and who loves you, respond to your prayers? So, keep praying, night and day, because God is waiting simply for you to trust him, and keep on trusting him, at the shops and in your home, and on the road.
The widow knows what she wants and what she is entitled to. She comes for justice and the judge has an obligation to her. She knows her rights! Much of what people get upset about in their lives are their rights. When we work for the homeless, we are working for people’s rights, as in education, health care, employment and freedom of movement and freedom of religion, freedom from slavery and torture, the right to life at all ages of life, among others. Persistence, persistence; not only by protesting but also in quiet prayer, just as Jesus taught us.
The widow’s persistent petitioning is identified in v1 as an image of, and lesson in, prayer, about which readers of Luke have already heard a great deal. The book begins with the whole assembly of the people praying outside the temple. Jesus prays at his baptism and withdraws to pray at key points throughout his ministry. He instructs his followers to pray for those who abuse them. When the disciples ask him to teach them to pray, he introduces the Lord’s Prayer, which is special to us all in any service. There, as here, he also encourages them to be persistent and to trust in God’s parental faithfulness, and the teaching ends with Jesus’ assurance that their heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. We are assured that God wants what is best for us. Jesus tells us that God intends to meet our basic needs for clothing and food. But Jesus is most insistent that God wants to give us three great gifts: the Holy Spirit, justice, and the Kingdom.
While the parable is framed by references to prayer and faith, the emphasis in verses 3-8 is on justice and how it figures in the confrontation between the vulnerable justice-seeker and the unjust powerholder. The powerful and just God takes the place of the unjust judge in the end, granting justice to his vulnerable, chosen ones who cry to him day and night. There is only one other use of the term “chosen one” in Luke. In chp23:35, Jesus on the cross is mocked by the religious leaders as “God’s chosen one.”
Finally, the parable ends with that last question I began with today, that reaches beyond the cross and the tomb and the resurrection into the future: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” We may find the beginnings of an answer in the Gospel itself where several people are commended for their faith:
- the centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
- the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
- friends of the paralytic who are willing to dig through a roof;
- the bleeding, unclean woman who touches Jesus’ clothes in the crowd and is healed;
- the Samaritan leper, whose gratitude turns him back to Jesus where he falls at his feet in thanksgiving;
- and the blind beggar later in this chapter who sees Jesus for who he is and calls to him.
Maybe the answer to the question appears to be that the Son of Man will find faith, but it may be in unexpected places, among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the vulnerable. Perhaps a sign of faith shows a willingness to persist in prayer, as the widow persists against all odds, or in what we pray for: daily bread, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, justice — or something altogether different. Only you know what you pray for day and night but keep praying each and every day.
Today I have placed a post-box at the back of Church with some paper. If you wish to pray for someone or something, please write it on the notelet and post your prayer request in the box. These will be collected and brought before God at each healing service. So, we write the prayer, we post the prayer, we bring the prayer before the Lord –persist in prayer at any time, any day. Because….
God Hears- So don’t lose heart. Have the same kind of confidence as the widow. Pray with the confidence, not that precisely what you’re asking will be given, but that God will give what he knows is right. Perseverance is less about getting what we want, and more about believing that God hears us and will provide what we need — which is oftentimes something we have not asked for. God is never bothered when we pray by faith. Never. And perseverance is trusting this truth, God is passionate about justice. You can bring all your concerns to him and know that he will understand.