Will Jesus Find Faith on Earth?

Scriptures: Luke 18:1-8

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One. Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be. Amen.

“Will the Son of Man find faith on Earth when he comes?” That is a very good question. Reflecting on it, Kimberly Braken Long writes:

“How many of our folks hammer away at God’s door, but to no apparent avail? The mother of young children is struck down by cancer, and so we pray and pray and pray, but death comes anyway. We are worn out from praying for comfort and relief in the wake of yet another natural disaster. The radio brings news of more war casualties, even though we continually pray for peace.”[1]

To which I add: the pointing-finger political process drones on and on with two main candidates from two opposing parties vying for the highest governmental position in our land, “one nation under God.” I wonder which one of them is more suited to be a servant-leader.

When I heard one pastor interviewed by NPR say, “There is a dangerous spirit” about one of the candidates, I had to stop and really think about what that meant. I have come to think it meant an unloosing of something that threatens all we have done – and all we do – to teach and instill a civilized culture; not to mention our attempts at molding children to be the best they can be despite what they learn from the present culture they find themselves in. But I digress…or do I?

Today’s scripture lesson from Luke is most certainly aimed directly at a then-and-now judicial system as humanity corrupted it. In light of our 21st century reality, I have to agree with Long: What hope can Jesus offer us? “How can this parable land meaningfully when God does not fix things for all who ask persistently…?”[2]

Another commentator, John Buchanan, points out: “the issue here is justice, not using God to get what one wants or needs….”[3]

“In these eight verses, we find theological key words and topics referring us to an abundance of complex Christian doctrines: prayer and trust, justice and deliverance, judgment and faith, persistence and resistance, the first and second coming of Christ, and the life of believers.”[4]

That’s a long list to try to address in one short sermon on eight verses. The main point of this passage, to most commentators, is to draw an analogy between the unjust judge and the widow seeking justice; and an ultimately just God and those who pray faithfully and continually.

I don’t know about you, but to me that still begs some questions: Why are prayers not always answered; or sometimes when they are, why is the answer not the one wished for? Which leads me down the dark road of doubt, wondering: does prayer really work? If not, what is prayer even for, then? Herein lies a theological complexity I cannot ignore:

“People seem to want to believe that God will intercede at our urging and do what we want God to do. Annie Dillard calls it “God sticking a finger in, if only now and then.” God is regularly given credit for finding a new job, selling a condo for a profit in a buyer’s market, [or even a convenient parking place.] Super Bowl champions thank the God who secured their victory (though we hear little from the losers’ locker room on the subject); [and] the winner of the lottery, unemployed, down to his last eight dollars, offered up a prayer, “Help me, Lord, … just let me win this,” and gave God credit for [his] $295 million jackpot.”[5]

Some of you may have heard of the prayer of Jabez…it gained popularity a few years back as an expression of some sort of prosperity gospel. His prayer, found in 1 Chronicles, goes like this:

“Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” (1 Chr. 4:10). God complied, and on that basis some twenty-first-century Christians are persuaded that God has unclaimed blessings for us, that God wants us to be selfish in our prayers, that it is appropriate to ask God to increase the value of your stock portfolio, and that God will open the storehouse of heaven if you pray persistently.

[However, any] daily experience with dear, faithful people who pray heartfelt prayers persistently and whose requests are not fulfilled, knows how theologically wrong and tragically misleading [that] prosperity gospel is.”[6]

Personally, I can think of any numerous times I badgered my parents for things I wanted, and anytime I go to the store with my older children, the same expletive arises: “I want, I want!” And, like my parents before me, I turn them down. If I’m lucky they will some day come to thank me, even as I am deeply grateful to my parents. In time, I pray – persistently and almost daily, by the way – that my children will turn out okay despite my saying, “No!” to a lot of things. But again, I digress…or do I? Despite my many other parental shortcomings, I dare to hope that perhaps someday my children will understand that what we most want and what is most needed are two different things.

Buchanon would suggest, and I agree, “that is at least part of what Jesus is teaching his disciples, and us, in this parable. The early church, which first read it, certainly prayed for many things it did not receive: safety [and] protection from persecution, for instance.

“Will the Son of Man find faith on Earth when he comes?” Perhaps here is the crux of the issue; for the early church did receive what it most needed: a sense of God’s loving presence and attentiveness, and the strength and resilience and fortitude it needed to survive.”[7]

Let this be our prayer: May we too find that same loving presence and attentiveness, strength, resilience and fortitude we need to survive.

May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

Luke’s parable of the widow (Luke 18:1–8) who continually came to the judge seeking justice encourages us not to lose heart. We are to pray and to be persistent in the life of faith on behalf of the justice God intends. God is pictured in contrast to this unjust judge who doesn’t care a bit about justice but does care about his own peace of mind! God, of course, has no peace of mind without justice. If we think of ourselves as the widow in this parable, then few of us have her stamina in the hard, exhausting work of seeking justice on behalf of the powerless. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus asks the closing question of the parable: “. . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will he find faith in us—persistent, tireless faith seeking justice? Margit Ernst-Habib* invites us to think that the widow represents not only our need to pray relentlessly but also to see the Holy Spirit in this insistent widow. The Spirit is at work, earnestly, unrelentingly encouraging us to pray. What causes you to lose hope in your own prayer life? What might the Spirit be urging you to pray and work for on behalf of someone else?

Household Prayer: Morning

God of justice, you are at work this very day on behalf of those who are poor, marginalized, and disregarded. Fill me with the power of your Holy Spirit so that I can begin this day praying earnestly for someone who faces injustice. Help me to see and to act upon an opportunity to participate in your love and justice. Give me the eyes and ears of faith as I go about my daily routines, walk the paths and hallways of my daily life, and attend to news local and global. Then, seeing and hearing through the light of Christ, encourage me relentlessly to pray and work without losing heart. I ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

God of mercy, I come to you now with my energy running low as the lights of the evening. Like stars in the darkness, I send out my prayers for justice to you. Amen.

*Margit Ernst-Habib, “Theological Perspective” on Luke 17:11–19, in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ)., pp 166, 168.

[1] Long, Kimberly Braken. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Buchanon, John M. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[4] Ernst-Habib, Margit. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[5] Buchanon, John M. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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