The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 18:108

And, yet, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith? It’s that last line that’s the hard part—that really confuses us—because it doesn’t explain anything. Instead, it seems a total disconnect from an already mysterious parable. The story Jesus tells at the beginning of Luke 18, known popularly as the “parable of the un¬just judge” has a reputation for being a tough story to deal with. And in fairness, you’d have to say that the parable deserves that reputation. If the point of a parable is to make a deep truth – a hard teaching – easier to understand, then this parable doesn’t quite work, does it?

What makes it so tough to deal with is that the main charac¬ter is not a nice person. He’s a man who became a judge, but not for any of the right reasons. Here he was, in a position to say what was right and what was just, but he didn’t feel ac¬countable to any universal ideas of good and bad, of right and wrong. It was his job to lay down the law. It was his job to judge the ac¬tions of other people. All well and good, but he didn’t think there was anyone judging him. He felt no accountability to a larger sense of justice.

Now, it’s not that you have to be all religious and whistle hymn tunes on your way to work and teach Sunday school in order to hold public office. That’s not the problem. The problem is that this man, this judge, had no belief, or at least no interest, in the higher good. And that’s not all. We are told, of this judge, that “[he] neither feared God, nor had respect for people.” He didn’t judge in response to God’s law, nor did he act out of a simple sense of fairness.

As the parable continues, a woman came to him and asked for his help – for justice in some matter – but apparently he didn’t become a judge in order to help people. He sent her away. But, every day, she returned. She would not relent. She pleaded and she begged and she nagged and she persisted until, finally, to stop her constant coming – to get her off his back – “so that she may not wear me out,” – the judge gave in to the woman and helped her.

After all this time, did she convince the judge of the rightness of her cause? Did the judge suddenly realize the selfishness of his ways and resolve to turn his life around and do good with his power? No, it was nothing like that at all. At long last, the judge assisted the woman because she was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. She was not going to go away until he gave her what she was asking for.

It’s easy to see why this is not one of the stories that gets told in Vacation Bible School. What’s it supposed to mean? The whole thing is introduced with these words: “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

If this is a story about prayer, is the widow supposed to represent us? More to the point, is the heartless judge supposed to represent God? After all, the judge is the one to whom the woman pleads. The judge has the power to bring about justice, and in the end, it’s the judge who grants her what she’s been asking for.

Like the judge, God hears our pleas. Like the judge, God has the power to do something about our problems. But how far does it go? Is God like the judge in every way? Does God also ignore us? Does God also have no re¬spect for people? Does God also cave in to us and answer our prayers only when we’ve gotten on his nerves so badly that he’ll do any-thing just to get us to stop nagging?

Surely we can’t believe that of God! We know that God loves us, we know that God wants good for us, and we know that God eagerly listens and answers our prayers. Surely God is nothing like the judge, and that’s the point of the story. It’s not a comparison. God is not likened to the unjust judge. Instead, this parable is a contrast. The judge is this … but God is that (almost opposite, in fact). The judge has no respect for people. God does respect people and cares for them. The judge wants to be left alone. God want us to be with him always. The judge gives in out of exaspera¬tion. God provides for us out of love.

So, the point is, if a selfish and power-drunk judge, a guy who doesn’t even especially like people, will give a poor widow the justice she’s been begging for, then how much more will God, who loves us, surely give us good and helpful things when we request them. God is not like the judge. God is better than the judge. Way better! Therefore, God will treat us better than the judge treated the widow.

After the story is over, Jesus sums up the parable, so that we don’t miss that this is a contrast. “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” asks Jesus. “Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Happy ending, right? So why does this story disturb people? Why is it so tough to deal with? Well, It’s the last line that holds the answer to that. It’s that last line that’s the hard part, because it is another question altogether. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus just told a story about how God can be trusted with our prayers; a story meant to show that God answers us and cares for us willingly. So, why, then, does Jesus follow by asking if there will still be faith on earth when he returns?

Because in spite of his assurance that God hears and answers us, it can be hard to trust that this is true, sometimes. There are so many times when it seems as if God really is like the judge. So many times our prayers seem to go unanswered. It is true that some prayer is self¬ish. Some prayers treat God like a menu. Most people would agree that God is not Santa Claus and that praying for luxuries or for one’s own glory is out of bounds. Most would agree that God is perfectly within his rights if he says, ‘no’ to those prayers.

But what about prayers said in love? What about the many just and kind and selfless prayers that don’t seem to get an answer? “God please heal….” “God, please protect…. ” “God, please don’t let….” We pray and we beg and we plead, and people still get sick and still fall victim to crime. There is still tragedy. There is heartbreak. There is death.

It is not easy to trust. It is not easy to believe. It is not easy to pray. We do not always get what we pray for, even when what we want is a truly good thing. So how can we say that God always hears us? How can we still have faith that God says, ‘yes’ to us when we see ‘no’ all around?

Jesus is the answer. Jesus himself is God’s ‘Yes.’ Jesus is the answer to every hope and every prayer.
Jesus fell victim to crime and cruelty and evil. In Jesus, God is with us when we are victimized and abused.
Jesus was rejected and beaten and crucified. In Jesus, God is with us even when things go horribly wrong and pain and tragedy come our way.
Jesus died and was buried. In Jesus, God is with us even in death.
Jesus rose from the dead. In Jesus, God makes us victorious over all things, including death, and gives us hope and life and a future and a purpose for ever.

In Jesus, God answers our prayers. God loves us. God respects us. God gives peace and hope and life. Jesus is our answer.

But Jesus has a question for us—for you, for me, for everyone who calls him Lord—to answer: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Will he find faith in you?

May our most earnest prayer be that God will give us faith, and that we will keep it in our hearts and in our souls, and in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.