Sunday, October 21, 2007

Will We?

Today, Sunday 29C in Ordinary Time, the gospel selected by the Roman Catholic Lectionary is Luke 18:1-8. The story of the recalcitrant judge worn to acquiescence by a persistent widow is familiar. So is the story's motto: "pray always without becoming weary". The NRSV translation, "to pray always and not to lose heart," seems to catch the flavor of the story a bit more sharply. Weary or not, says Jesus, keep on praying!

Jesus concludes the story with a powerful assurance: "Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily."

But then he adds a poignant twist: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" The Son of Man is to be God's answer to those who cry out for justice. The Son of Man is to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the creed. The Son of Man is to be the vindication for which the chosen ones plead. Jesus could be wondering, almost as a muttered aside, "But will there be anyone with sufficient faith to pray for that vindication always, without losing heart?"

Without denying that reading, the text lends itself to another. "Will there be anyone with sufficient faith to receive the Son of Man when he comes?" From a gospel perspective, faith seems to include the power to grant God permission to act for us or on us. It's part and parcel of the trust that faith implies, I suppose. You might think that of course anyone would trust God to do whatever God wanted, but it's not as easy as that. You never really know what God will actually do, but you can be pretty sure it won't be exactly what you expect, and it might not be what you think you want, either.
It might sound a bit odd to say that we have to give God permission to do something for us. But you'll recall the story of Jesus' Nazareth homecoming, told in Luke 16. After announcing his mission in the synagogue, he must have heard the whispers in the crowd. In Mark's version of the story (Mark 6:1-6), their murmuring is reported more fully than it is in Luke's : "They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" In Luke's version, he takes the words right out of their mouths: "Doubtless... you will say do also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did in Capernaum." Although both gospels say that the townsfolk heard him with wonder and amazement, he must also have heard the doubts that underlay their applause and known that all they wanted was a show to rival the show he had given in Capernaum. He in his turn was amazed--at their unbelief (Mark 6:6). In the face of that unbelief, he could do very little for them. He did not have their permission. And the Lord, who respects our freedom far more than we do, would not act without it.

When the Son of Man comes again, wonders Jesus in today's gospel, will he again find his hands tied by unbelief? Will he be unable to bring the vindication God's chosen ones desired because no one desired it with enough faith to receive it?

Of course Jesus does not wait till the dramatic moment at the end of time to heap God's blessings on us . He is with us always, as he promised, hearing our prayers and providing us with far more than we can ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The question remains: will we meet him with the faith to receive it?

©2007, Abbey of St. Walburga

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