Text study – Luke 18:1-8

The Gospel text for this Sunday (21st Sunday after Pentecost) is from Luke 18:1-8.  This is a parable told by Jesus about a persistent widow and an unjust judge.  It is also a parable that contains a haunting question.

We have a judge who neither feared God or cared about people.  Basically, he was in it for the money; looking out for number one.  We also have a widow who is experiencing an injustice of some kind perpetrated by another.  So the widow goes to the judge, but the judge does not want to be bothered with petty things.  But unfortunately for this judge, this widow is feisty.  She keeps bugging him until finally he grants her the justice she is looking for; just to get her off his back.  Jesus then tells his disciples to notice what the UNJUST judge does.  Now…how much more will God give justice to His children who cry out to God day and night?  "I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly." (18:8)

Now comes the haunting question – one that has always bothered me:  "However, (don’t you just hate it when you hear that word) when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (18:8).  I hear this nice parable about prayer and not giving up.  I am reassured that God does hear my prayers and that they don’t fall on deaf ears.  Justice is proclaimed to God’s children.  "However… (there’s that word again) "…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth."  Now what?  Is this a warning not to give up?

I am wondering…

In the Old Testament text, Jacob is wrestling with God and in the end, his persistence is rewarded with a blessing.  Had Jacob given up after his hip was "wrenched", I am willing to bet he would not have received the blessing he was looking for.  In the Gospel text, the widow is experiencing an injustice, so she cries for help.  Had the woman lost faith and given up, the justice she was seeking would not have been given.

So…

Is this a statement about persistence in our faith, not just prayer?  I think it might be.  Hear me out here.  It has been 2000 years since Jesus died and rose and promised to return again.  People have prayed and waited for Jesus.  But now, are we growing too complacent?  Have people grown tired of waiting?  Have we grown sick of praying for world peace only to see wars and conflicts escalate?  Maybe this text is a reminder that God has not forgotten about us.  God has and is granting justice for us through Jesus Christ.  And in due time, will we receive the ultimate blessing that has been promised to us.  But when Jesus returns, will he find people waiting for him, or will he find people who have given up; who have stopped being persistent?

As Christians we are to continually pray for peace and justice.  "Pray without ceasing" we are taught.  Seek God.  Be still and know that God is God.  Don’t grow tired of waiting, but rejoice in the promise.  Rejoice in the blessing.  This life is but a fleeting moment compared to eternity with God in heaven.

"However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" — I sincerely hope so.  This haunting question is now beginning to serve as a proclamation of Good News.  Jesus IS coming.  God HAS NOT forgotten about us.  So…be persistent and know that God is listening.  Justice is indeed on the way.  Praise God always and forever!  Amen!

-edh-

5 thoughts on “Text study – Luke 18:1-8

  1. I see a parallel in the readings about Jacob, the widow seeking justice, and Habukkuk (from a couple of weeks ago). In each story, a human struggles with God, persists in that struggle, and is given or finds a reward. Faith plays a role in all three stories, faith in the form of struggle, sometimes critical, sometimes questioning, always persistent. This struggle is a form of engagement with God and thus a form of faith. It means we haven’t written-off God as a quaint relic from a pre-scientific age. When the Son of Man returns, if all he finds are people critically or obstinately struggling with God, like Jacob, the widow, or Habakkuk, I believe he will count those people as faithful. I hope so, anyway.

  2. Tom – Earlier this week you were pondering using some different texts for your text study. Where are you at now? It seems you have a bead on something here.

    I like what you said…I think there is a connection between the texts. I believe the idea of persistence is an important one. I haven’t written my sermon yet, but I think I am going to talk about persistence in faith (and prayer). I guess we’ll see where God leads me.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Eric – Yes, earlier I was put off by the peculiarities of God’s portrayal in the story of Jacob and especially the story of the widow and the judge. But these stories are metaphors, for sure, and if you direct your attention to the people in these stories and how they engage God, the stories come to life, at least for me. There is a certain physicality, almost grittiness, to the engagement with God, especially in the metaphor of Jacob wrestling with God. But the same grittiness is in Habakkuk, and that story has additional richness and credibility. Engaging God, alone in the night, no holds barred, allows us to be touched by God, so that going forward we do not walk as we did before. (I could imagine a powerful sermon ending with a line like that.) I trust God will lead you well this coming Sunday.

    Tom

  4. I am once again supply preaching this week and have finally found time for some text study. Please indulge my simple reflection as it stands thus far.

    For me both of the stories speak of perseverance. It is kind of like being a child in the back seat of your parents’ car, making a long trip to a favorite vacation spot. As the hours and miles pass, children grow impatient and every five minutes ask that nagging question; “Are we there yet?” Of course the kids know that we are going to get there, but the waiting is almost unbearable. It becomes so unbearable that at times children become cranky, fight with their siblings over the smallest of issues and finally provoke a response from their parents.

    As children of God, we too are waiting. We too are on that long journey to a promised land where there is no more injustice, no more pain and no more bickering in the back seat. The only problem is that we have weak faith and grow impatient. We are not waiting according to God’s time, but rather we wait according to our time. Thankfully our nagging refrains (how long O Lord?) from the back seat are met by God’s grace.

    We aren’t there yet, but God is here. Christ comes to us each time we participate in the sacrament of the altar, strengthening us in our faith. When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? Yes, I believe so. I believe he will find faith when he come, because he feeds our faith just as he comes.

  5. I like that illustration of children riding in the back seat on a long journey. I see a lot of truth in that.

    I think the angle I am taking is instead of focusing on our persistence I am focusing on God’s persistence. God is persistently in love with us Just review the biblical story and you can see a persistent God. And because God is that persistent about us, we can trust that God will bring about the ultimate blessing of Jesus Christ – when Christ comes again to bring us home. God hasn’t forgotten about us, but (as you say) we grow impatient.

    Blessings to you as you prepare to preach.

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