“when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:8
During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, a group of pastors and their families were among those taken captive, they wrote appealing for help, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.” Their appeal for help went unanswered, their prayers for safety were in vain. When such events have taken place, and we have seen times in our own lives when prayers have gone unanswered,n Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel reading is difficult. Jesus talks about prayer being answered in such unambiguous terms that we have to ask the question, what about when prayer is not answered? What about those times when we have been like the woman in the parable but there has not been a response?
Four verbs in the reading can help us in our thoughts: pray, lose, keep, and grant.
Saint Luke Chapter 18 Verse 1 says, “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always.” Prayer was part of life in Jesus’ time, people had a belief in the constant presence of God. In our own time, it is different, beliefs have changed. Praying always now must be about an attitude, about a state of mind. Praying always is about more than saying one’s prayers, it’s about having a constant conversation with God, about acknowledging God’s presence with us all of the time, not just when we come to church, not just when we choose to pray. Praying always means seeing God not as someone who is remote and detached from our lives, but as someone who is there as a friend. Praying always is about accepting that God knows the whole of our lives, not just those parts we prefer to talk about. Praying always means being honest with God and honest with ourselves. Praying always takes courage because in talking to God, we see ourselves as we are. Praying always, taking part in a conversation, we know God is there, even when he does not seem to have answered.
Jesus says we are to pray always, how ready are we to do so?
The second verb is “lose.” In Verse 1, Jesus tells them the parable about the need to pray, but also that they are “not to lose heart.” Losing heart would have been easy for the disciples. If we read Saint John Chapter 6, after the feeding of the Five Thousand, we see how many of those who had followed Jesus drifted away as soon as his teaching became more challenging. When we follow the story of the days leading up to the crucifixion, and see how the crowd changed, we can see how easy it would have been for the disciples to have lost heart. Sometimes losing heart is easy for us, we try something a few times and it doesn’t work, so we give up. Like the crowds in Saint John Chapter 6, we drift away when things become too challenging. But if we have been praying always, if we have developed a friendship with God, we know that like a good friend, he is always there, we know that prayers do not go unheard.
Like a friend on whom we can lean, God will carry us along, so we should not lose heart.
The third verb is “keep.” The unjust judge in the parable neither fears God nor respects people, but he does like peace and quiet, and he does like not being disturbed. In Verse 5, he says, because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” It is an odd way to think about God, as if he were someone who needed to be nagged. Perhaps Jesus is pointing to a need for persistence, telling the disciples that if they have confidence in God then they will persist in their faith, even in those times when they can see no response. Jesus saying that confidence in prayer is not just about not losing heart, it is about carrying on even when there is no sign of an answer. If they had given up, to whom would they turn? When Jesus sees the crowds drifting away in Saint John Chapter 6, he asks the disciples if they want to go too. In Verse 68 of that chapter, Peter answers, “‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Like the woman in the parable, we keep going because, if we don’t, where else can we turn?
The final verb is “grant.” In Saint Luke Chapter 18 Verse 7, Jesus says, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” What did the disciples make of these words? Particularly when they suffered for their faith, what did they make of the promise that God would grant justice, that he would hear and answer prayers? What would those Rwandan pastors have thought about that promise? It is the most difficult of the four words, we can understand the need to pray always; we can understand the need not to lose heart; we can understand the need to keep asking because we are confident; but Jesus says God will not delay? What about those times when God has delayed? What about those times when he doesn’t seem to have heard those who have cried out to him day and night? The only answer we have is to say that it is a question that we cannot answer. All we can do is to say that as Christians our hope extends far beyond this life. All we can do is say that we believe that God works in his own time, and the day will come, in this world or the next, when all of our prayers find their answer.
“He will quickly grant justice to them,”says Jesus in Verse 8. In God’s scheme of time, quickly may mean now, it may mean in eternity.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” asks Jesus. May he find us as people who try to pray always, may he find us as people who try not to lose heart, may he find us as people who try to keep up our requests; may he find us as people confident that, whether it be here and now or whether it will be on the Last Day, God will grant justice.